Set up project management offices to track infrastructure development

Casual workers walk past affordable housing project at Mukuru in Nairobi,  October 3, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

If we are going to have a fair, honest shot at leaping out of our current state of development as country, we must centralise successful delivery of public projects – both at national level and in the counties.

A nation is defined by its riches and wealth that stem from its successful infrastructure developments. Former US President John F Kennedy once said, “American roads are good, not because America is rich but America is rich because American roads are good.”

Too much is at stake for Africa in this century, or the next two decades or so. A planet that is warming at an unprecedented rate has coupled with it complexities with consequences no less than the apocalypses, a nightmarish population growth that is rudely rising unabated and an obscene urbanisation clamour that is putting cities on edge.

We cannot afford to continue with the unfortunate wastages we have become numb to in the public sector projects delivery. We stand no chance as a country if we continue with the mediocre project implementation voyage we have been on. We must break the hold of this outdated paradigm if for nothing else but for our survival.

Our inability to effectively utilise our resources is our biggest problem as country. This largely emanates from how we execute public projects. Amidst these 21st century complexities and challenges, we are running mega projects using first industrial revolution techniques of 1700s, where management of projects was rather the result of the experience and intuition of a project manager than the application of scientific methods. There can and will be only a single outcome from this method: time and cost overruns.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) global estimates that seven out of 10 projects in Africa go over budget and time. It further highlights that for every one billion dollars spent, 13 per cent is wasted. Incredible! Suffice it to say that perhaps corruption is not Africa’s biggest hurdle to successful projects delivery – wastage is.

The new administration must break this ice if they are serious about progressing this country. They must deliberately touch the sacrosanct foundations that the predecessor administrations, for various reasons, declined to. We need competencies in project execution, if it means an overhaul of ministries or departments, so be it. The lethargy and carelessness with which our public projects are treated has to end – no more time and cost overruns.

President Ruto’s government, including governors, must establish central Project Management Offices (PMOs). Serious democracies and organisations are on this pedestal to enhance delivery of public projects, and it’s working miracles.

A foreign survey was done on 450 institutions, 303 of which have a project management office, which represents 67 per cent of the total sample. This is new kid on the infrastructure block. A Project Management Office (PMO) is defined as an entity or a department within the organisation where anything related to managing projects and programmes is directed to it.

Projects funded by public money attract close media scrutiny, and many programmes involve complex, interlinked delivery projects controlled by multiple departments and agencies. To try to address some of these problems, many national and state governments have set up project management offices (PMOs): central units that provide oversight, tools and assistance for delivery teams, help to build specialist workforces, and drive cross-government reforms. By tracking project development, offering training, developing policies and deploying specialists, PMOs can play a key role in improving governments’ project success rates.

This is the way to go if we are to achieve successful delivery of projects. While still at it, we must ensure the PMOs are stocked with competent built environment professionals, at both national and county levels, who have a knack for project delivery. The most important qualification every member of the PMO team must have is the deep love for this country. 

In summary, two key reasons behind governments and organisations implementing PMOs are: Increasing the percentage of success for the projects and applying standard qualifications for managing the projects. Of course, there is bound to be cost reduction due to good resource management. Some of us who care deeply about this country, about this continent, understand that the linchpin of our accelerated growth hinges on successful delivery of projects.

At the moment, we are far off as a country. There are too many delayed, over-budgeted and stalled projects running into trillions of shillings. How can a country grow in such blatant mediocrity? We require a paradigm shift away from the mainstream thinking that has surrendered to fate.

Central PMOs will invariably improve the government’s delivery of the much needed projects without wastages. I’m aware that we must make the office agile to avoid having it as another bureaucratic layer. The new administration has to do things differently, this is not just a way, it is the only tested way to successful delivery of projects today amidst the 21st century challenges and complexities. Let’s try this.