by Wessel Pieters

Opinion: Tackling Africa's problems

Is project management in government the African solution?

Is PM in government the African solution?
Is PM in government the African solution?

While the world is in an economic crisis, the problems in Africa far outweigh the problems in the rest of the world. A simple PEST analysis on African countries reveals low economic growth rates, political instability, social atrocities and lack of policy and programme implementation capability. What is it that Africa lacks that other continents seem to have? Why is the African continent in so many ways still living up to its reputation as ‘the dark continent’ instead of being the growth centre of the world?

There are several excuses offered. Colonialism, multinational corporation greed, corruption, capitalism and, never forget, apartheid are the main reasons. In reality, what is truly keeping the African continent at third-world status? While all problems cannot be fixed through project management, a project management approach in government could contribute toward solving many problems in Africa.

What is ultimately required is a turnaround strategy implemented using appropriate project management methodologies. In order to make a success of any turnaround plan, suitable project management knowledge and skill has to be secured and applied. To solve the problems as they present themselves in Africa, a breakthrough implementation programme is required. Only once it has been implemented successfully, can further improvements be introduced gradually. It is only a breakthrough programme that will lead to a continuous improvement process to improve economic outlook and increase living standards in the continent on a continuous basis.

The new initiative of the South African government appears to be such a programme. Politicians must ensure the management of the implementation is by the application of complex programme management tools and techniques. There is no other manner in which success can be achieved. The SA government had many previous growth plans that delivered little results. Let us hope history will not repeat itself.

This management process can be applied in any area of government, such as building a disaster management framework, improvement of infrastructure, or development of policies and procedures. One of the advantages of the project management approach is that timelines are set and the project will not die at committee level.

What skills are required and what cultural imperative will provide drivers for success? Firstly, competence in portfolio and programme management are a pre-condition for success. Secondly, the cultural drivers of achievement, taking responsibility, 'action-man' approach, engagement, consulting, teamwork and negotiating skills are a good starting point.

Senior officials responsible for programme implementation should have a project management Level A qualification in compliance with the International Project Management Association (IPMA) certification standards and, lately, the new ISO 21500 specification. Once a government or a business management team operates within a project management framework, projects will stay within budget and timelines and there will be integration between the different departmental silos. Multidisciplinary teams will work together toward a common goal.

In an ideal project management-orientated situation, each cabinet minister will have some project management skills and will have professional project managers in the team. Such a situation will lead to promises to constituents being kept and service delivery being improved. Where failure occurs, it is normally the project management that fails and not the people or the political system.

Africa needs a free market orientation to exchange goods and services effectively, and younger management with higher education; people who are task-orientated and confident. If such education includes project management skills, Africa will develop its potential. But it needs to be the local people who are being upskilled, not multinationals that place skilled people on the continent to implement a project and disappear after the handover of the project, leaving the local community without any empowerment or means to maintain the project or asset.

There is so much that can be done for Africa, a continent with a large workforce, mineral resources and much foreign investment interest. It is a matter of developing the necessary skills and applying the resources in the most efficient and effective manner, while empowering the people.

Project management will not solve political instability, but it can go a long way toward improving infrastructure, increasing the availability of technology and improving living conditions, resulting in an improvement in the social circumstances of Africa’s people. Perhaps an African-based project management academy for government officials will be the first step toward clarifying some of the critical success factors. This will make a contribution toward solving some of the many problems Africa faces, be it at a micro-level.

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