Why next government should open project management office

Civil servants' affordable housing under construction in Embu County, February 24, 2020. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

Governments have a big appetite for projects. Infrastructure projects, laptop project, management equipment services project are examples of projects that we have seen in the government that is now finishing its term. 

Projects by their very nature are supposed to be temporary undertakings geared towards producing a unique service, product or outcome. They are therefore designed to have a beginning and an end.

Practitioners in project management will tell you that this is an area where we have not particularly witnessed much success, especially in the public space.

It is documented that many of the public projects we have undertaken have registered dismal performance and total failure at worst.

You measure the success of a project through various parameters. These include completion within budget, projected time for completion and scope that was supposed to be covered.

Projects should also meet certain quality parameters and should be fit for purpose. It makes no sense to carry out a project that will not serve the intended purpose.

Now, readers will recall the government choosing to settle out of court several project disputes.

The government also declared that it was abandoning some projects due to financial difficulties. Some projects, that may be good infrastructure solutions, failed. Now, before you get me wrong, a successful project will be delivered on time, within budget and meet the scope it was meant to cover.

What percentage of the many infrastructure projects undertaken by the government, both at county and national government level, meet this threshold?

We must laud President Uhuru Kenyatta for establishing a Presidential Delivery Unit.

I want to believe this was meant to coordinate all government projects and avoid working at cross-purposes, yet all ministries, departments and agencies work for the same government, which means they should pull together.

In my view, the next government should go the extra mile and establish a full-fledged Project Management Office.

This office should be staffed with professionals trained and certified in project management. The office will be tasked with managing all government projects end to end.

This is where projects shall be initiated, planned, executed, monitored and evaluated and finally closed.

There should be accountability for projects that the government embarks on. For example, why should we begin projects only for them to stall mid-way after we have sunk billions of taxpayers’ money?

Badasa dam for instance was tendered at Sh1.7 billion, it was later varied with an additional Sh1.98 billion. This is based on media reports. Put into context, this is a 116 per cent variation and it is, simply put, a big variation.

Ordinarily, 10 per cent to 15 per cent variation can be explained and possibly absorbed into the project contingency sums or through approval by the project sponsor. Anything beyond that spells trouble for the project.

Early this year, there were media reports that the State would cancel 437 projects which had stalled. Some were started during President Mwai Kibaki’s term while others were started under the Jubilee government. The projection was that by March this year, they would have been cancelled.

The reports indicated that the associated costs in the commitments to these projects was running to Sh9 trillion.

This is actually a three-year budget for Kenya and it indicates the magnitude of investment involved. It is expected that when you throw in claims for cancelling binding contracts, variations and awards for claims on Extension of Time and others, the figure could balloon astronomically.

Key to the success of every project is proper, deliberate and adequate planning. There is no project success without proper, prior planning before implementation begins.

In fact, no project should ever begin if adequate planning was not put in place. This is where we all fail both in private and public sector.

My proposal for the establishment of a Project Management Office is guided by the need to ensure that we start delivering successful projects.

This state department should be under the Office of The President and should be equipped to deal with project integration management of all government projects, handling projects professionally and regularly reporting to Parliament.

No project should be financed by the exchequer unless it is properly planned. The relevant state department should be held responsible if a project fails to be delivered on time, within budget or fails to meet the desired outcome.

Projects consume a lot of taxpayers’ money and this is the reason that their conceiving, design and execution must be done by qualified professionals.

Project management has now emerged as a profession with certifications and required knowledge, skills and competencies. We need to tap into these to ensure that public projects succeed. This, coupled with proper monitoring and evaluation, should lead to an era of success in implementing public projects.

The next government should look into this matter. That will be good for proper stewardship of the country's resources.