“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face” – Mike Tyson

A project, according to Project Management Institute (PMI), can be defined as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and an end in time, scope and resources. A project is unique as it is not a routine operation but a specific and a distinct range of work to be performed and designed to accomplish a singular or a set of objectives. Let me add by saying that the above definition is not sacrosanct as it might be defined differently in some other parts of the world. In a layman’s language, it is a big task comprising many smaller tasks or work packages that must be done within a timeframe or deadline and leading to a milestone.

Project/programme management can then be described as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to achieve set project goals and objectives. Project management has always been in existence, albeit informally, but it has only just been practised as a distinct profession since the mid 1940s and early 1950s. There is a universal set of five processes projects in every industry have to go through for them to have been deemed to be successfully completed. These are as follows: (1) Initiating; (2) Planning; (3) Executing; (4) Monitoring and Control; and (5) Closing. How these processes are followed and used can be different from industry to industry. What obtains in the manufacturing industry might be different from the construction or the aviation industry.

The notion that the concept of project management is unnecessary and dispensable is very prevalent in the Nigerian business and government landscape. This might be due to the fact that not much is known about its importance and advantages or that a lot of company executives and senior government officials are used to the unregulated and uncontrolled approaches to implementing programmes and individual projects. Project management is seen as an arduous task of meandering through needless loops and layers within an organisation on the way to successful execution of projects. This thinking is short-sighted and has led to numerous abandoned, uncompleted and failed projects culminating in avoidable loss and wastage of funds and scarce resources.

The worth and importance of the art and science of project management to an organisation’s strategic goals cannot be over-emphasised. Very stiff global competition amongst businesses and government agencies worldwide has made it imperative for these organisations to turn to project management principles in order to have an edge and consistently achieve outstanding results and meet business goals. Moreover, enterprises are continually re-engineering their business portfolios trying to link all that they do to their strategic missions and objectives. These activities include analysing, standardising and improving business and work processes. Also, there is need to avoid spending funds that will not guarantee desired returns on investment due to poor project planning, execution, monitoring and control.

Leading corporations and government agencies and departments all over the world have over the years welcomed total cost management and project management as a way to cut pork barrel projects and reduce spending, control risks and generally meet their business objectives and developmental goals. It is even more so in these times of economic downturn. With oil revenues plummeting by the day, available resources need to be judiciously allocated and spent. Without adequate total cost management, project management and project controls in place, achieving sustainable infrastructural development and economic growth will be a mirage. Most successful business and project outcomes are as a result of applying sound project management principles such as good and result-oriented leadership, detailed and proper planning, pinpoint and excellent execution, stringent monitoring and control and, eventually, closure.

Organisational project management provides a strategic architecture which starts at the senior management/portfolio level where programmes and projects are selected and prioritized to best attain corporate and government developmental goals. Programme management coordinates and manages a group of related projects towards meeting set goals while project management deals with individual projects which support both the programme and portfolio management objectives. Out-of-alignment programmes and projects are either terminated or changed mid-course to bring them back in line to the organisation’s vision. More and more companies and government departments and agencies in developed economies are reaping tremendous benefits from their decisions to invest in human capital, time and money to put up organisational project management knowhow thereby achieving faster turnaround times, reduced costs, greater effectiveness and efficiency, higher competitive advantage and general stakeholder satisfaction in the process.

The creation of a Project Management Office (PMO) by an organisation centralizes and standardizes the management of projects and programmes across the business and government departments. The PMO can be controlling, supportive or directive and is usually a department within an organisation. Having a functional PMO prevents business and government agencies/departments from embarking on projects that have the likelihood or a high percentage of failure by applying strict project management metrics and defined key performance indicators from the onset. According to a 2010 PMI white paper on the value of project management, Intel, the global IT giant in Santa Clara, California, USA drastically reduced project length, improved project delivery within similar budget restraints and bolstered customer relationships. As contained in the same white paper, since Intel launched its IT Project Management Office, the company has steadily increased the number of projects released while budgets remained flat, thanks to better project management, shorter timeframes and a more robust system of tracking.

Below are the numbers for three years: 2007: 402 projects successfully released; 2008: 440 projects successfully released; 2009: 454 projects successfully released.

Another good example is an engineering consulting firm based in Lagos, Nigeria. The firm executes its numerous projects without applying the basic principles and ideals of project management. Over the years they found out that they were losing a lot of money and project delivery dates kept being moved backwards time and time again. A decision was taken by senior management to establish a PMO charged with using project management methodologies and best practices. Key performance indices were set to determine if ongoing projects meet budget and schedule milestones. Better results were obtained with subsequent projects embarked upon by the firm with most of them coming in under budget and with minimal schedule slippages.

Poor project management practices can have disastrous consequences and will surely derail an otherwise carefully thought-out business process. Project failures can be avoided by proper planning and putting into practice metrics and standards established at the top management/portfolio level. Having a PMO in place, as well as senior management buy-in and support, is very essential for the practice of disciplined project management in an organisation. Bureaucratic bottlenecks and delays are reduced to the minimum resulting in projects being finished on time, budget and within scope. Also, change management procedures are done much faster. Project management practice is also very important to today’s modern economy because it integrates business processes, systems and organisations. Change as the only constant thing can be effectively managed by a strong project management culture. Also, risks (negative, positive, known and unknown), quality (qualitative and quantitative), cost, communication, stakeholders (negative and positive), procurement, time and human resources can be proactively and effectively managed with sound project management principles. Lessons learned and knowledge gained from previously executed projects are also very valuable and they come in handy for future projects.

The practice and general use of project management is developing and rapidly gaining momentum. The relationship that exists between organisational project management and business value continues to grow. Exposure to, and training in, project management forms the basis of this relationship. The project management maturity model for most Nigerian businesses and government departments is on the poor side and needs to be greatly improved.

Ayodele Akingbade

BusinessDay

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