Empowering Sri Lanka’s future through project management

Monday, 23 December 2013 01:23 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

According to a President’s Office media release, the Government presented the 2014 Appropriation Bill with an estimated expenditure of Rs. 2.54 trillion, to be spent on massive development projects focused on highways, power, tourism, rural industries, health, and education sectors. Special focus was on the programs in the agriculture sector. With such a large investment and foreign borrowings, it is crucial to ensure that every cent we invest on projects deliver the expected returns. Not only the Government and public sector organisations, but also the private companies need to focus on how to acquire the expected benefits of the projects they plan for the New Year, through best practices of project management. Best practices in project management Best practices of project management are the strategies that worked well in the successful projects or, the recommended actions from the lessons learned from previous projects. In project management, PMI USA, IPMA and many other organisations get together with professional organisations from various industries like IEEE to collect and share the best practices to ensure success of the projects in a world where knowledge is linked with the power. Acquiring new knowledge, applying what’s been learned and sharing them not only contributes to the continuous success in projects, but also contribute to the continuously evolving knowledge base of best practices in project management. There were many stories built around some of the recent projects completed in Sri Lanka. The Colombo-Katunayake Expressway, a project that has initiated in 1968, to connect the Bandaranaike International Airport with the commercial capital of Colombo, is one of the most recent examples of a project which has been completed with many lessons to learn. After four decades from the initial idea establishment, under the current Government of Sri Lanka, construction on the 25.8Km long highway began in October 2009, and finally completed and opened by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 27 October 2013. Many questions were raised: “Why did it take so long? How much was the initial budget? How long is the payback?” Doesn’t it sound familiar? Even in a public or private company where millions of projects are being managed? The Colombo-Katunayake Expressway Project is one of the many projects which have been questioned in the recent past. Questions will repeat, projects will continue to fail, until project management is effectively used. Defining project success Project success is happy stakeholders. It doesn’t matter how many indicators are used to justify that the project has been completed successfully, if the stakeholders are unhappy, the story ends at that point. Future depends on how effectively stakeholder requirements are met and managed. Frequently we see failed projects are declared as successes with beautiful stories. Turning a failed project to a success through stakeholder management can also create a loss of trust, leaving organisation’s reputation at risk. At a project failure, follow the best practices in project management to save the project from the expected failure, and ensure stakeholders are managed through the process, before declaring the success. How to achieve success? With my 20 years of international project management experience and project management knowledge I acquire every day, I would recommend the following actions to ensure our projects create expected returns and improve confidence of our people that the money spent on the projects are effectively being managed, because only the successful projects can empower the future. Spend time to understand the needs of the customer, client, and the end user: Success start at the first contact with the client. If the needs of the clients are not understood, project will start with a plan to fail. Clearly define the project scope and avoid scope creep: Many projects are questioned in relation to time, budget and quality when the changes to the requirements are not managed. Ensure only the required changes are implemented in the projects and the change control process is strictly followed. Project initiation and project planning are too different things: Don’t get confused project initiation as project planning. Project initiation is where a specific project is given a go-ahead authority to plan a project. Project planning must be comprehensive, whether it is done all at once, or planned in iterations. Differentiate stakeholders with stakeholder analysis: All the stakeholders are not equally important. Analyse stakeholder power, influence and interest to craft unique strategies that work for each stakeholder. Manage risk effectively: Projects risks are not just the common risk like weather, technical failure, competence issues of the team, or the delays caused by external parties. There can be many unforeseen risks. Conduct a proper risk analysis at the beginning of the project to ensure that all project risks are managed. Meet the quality: Standards differentiate the best. Compliance is a lifestyle. Make sure quality is given its place in the project, and it meets the requirements of the user. Communicate effectively: Project management global standards experts agree that communication takes 90% of project manager’s time. Don’t waste it; it might be the reason for many avoidable failures. Take the lessons learned but encourage innovation and advance project management profession: There are many lessons to learn from the past projects. Take the lessons learnt to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated and also use it as a tool to benchmark current project.  Don’t be afraid to innovate, and learn new ways to improve the process. New learnings will contribute to the advancement of the project management body of knowledge. Educate, motivate and empower Educate, motivate and empower project teams to achieve the project expectations, and ensure projects create the value it expects to create, and at the end, will meet the real needs of the users. Project management, when used effectively, helps bring even the most impossible dreams to reality with proper planning, execution and passion for success. [The writer (DBA, PMP, MEng, AFAIM) is the Chairman of Global Institute of Project – GIPM and the CEO of Innova Strategies. Dr. Madhu can be contacted on madhu.fernando@innovastrategies.com.]

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