Project management: How it can eradicate poverty

In the best interest of Nepal, it will take some righting of some past wrong practices in project management of over 65 years. They should begin from the initiation and planning phases of the project as they impact the execution

The recently concluded National Development Council meeting to approve the concept paper of the 15th five-year plan has brought about some optimism.

A notable goal of the concept paper is to contribute to eradicating absolute poverty in Nepal in 25 years. That Nepal has an apex advisory body for planning, the National Planning Commission, and almost every other task is interchangeably called a project is well known. But what makes some projects successful, and others not? As a developing country aspiring to become a middle-income country by 2030 and nullify absolute poverty in 25 years on the strength of successful projects, it is crucial that Nepal focusses on better management of big infrastructure projects that bring about the needed results. Even by average standards, Nepal’s publicly visible management of projects is dismal.

Delays in project completion mean further social complications, cost overruns, public anger, unhappy donors, non-delivery of services to the people and stymied development.

As reconstruction gets underway following the devastating 2015 earthquakes, a multitude of projects have been planned and are under implementation.

But with false starts and faltering, feeble monitoring and lack of a control mechanism, the reconstruction projects are setting a bad precedence that the Nepalis treat an urgency as business-as-usual.

In the best interest of Nepal, it will take some righting of some of the past wrong practices in project management of over 65 years. They should begin from the initiation and planning phases of the project as they impact the execution.

There have been problems in monitoring and control by the non-application of an earned value management system.

Therefore, the projects do not often complete on time, on budget, and often exceed both the scope and budget. The Project Management Institute (PMI), a global authority on project management, states problems in scope controls is one the major causes of project failure.

There is no short-cut to successful project management in any infrastructure project. Once the project charter is drawn, it starts with geotechnical analysis, site layout and soil tests.

The planning kicks in with design, factoring in architectural, structural, electrical, plumbing and sanitation designs along with the work breakdown structure (WBS) and a bill of quantity.

The activities of the WBS should account for labour holidays, seasonal weather, availability of goods and materials. Long-list items should be made well in advance so that their procurement takes place in time, and there are no delays.

There should be no compromise in the selection of the project manager, discipline leaders, quality assurance manager and resource manager. These project determiners should have a thorough understanding of the risks to the projects and mitigate them should they be unavoidable.

They should also put in place a robust communication and reporting system so that decision-makers can make the right decision at the right time.

With proper human resource in place, the rubber meets the road, and not all go as planned in execution.

Adjustments must be made. Once the cost/time/ scope changes, it becomes difficult to keep the project on track and on budget.

This is where monitoring and control come into play.

For lack of due emphasis on proper monitoring and controls, projects in Nepal have failed to perform as expected.

One solution to this kind of scope, time, cost creep is to have a firm fixed price type of contract and avoid ailments of unit rate contracts that can impact the total cost in the long run.

Equally important is non-compromise in the selection of the construction contractor. The contractor should not be only technically competent but also competent in managing the project in time. So, the selection criteria for choosing proposals should have technically acceptable proposals with low financial bidding.

Lack of coordination between the stakeholder agencies has also become a major hurdle in project management in Nepal. Despite the bureaucratic and other tussles, a project has a higher chance of success by effectively managing the stakeholders. Constructing roads cannot have utility companies having their own plans, they should be integrated.

Somewhat similar to the Nepal Reconstruction Authority’s Central Level Project Implementation Unit - which is carrying out projects in the education sector or Project Directorates for some projects - it is also better to have a Project Management Office (PMO) for effective management of projects at the ministry level. The PMO is a management structure that standardises the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools and techniques. The PMO should work hand in hand with the National Planning Commission to implement the projects planned out in the periodic plans.

With due emphasis on all the phases of project management life cycle, the development projects in Nepal will produce the results as expected in time and within cost. Nepal will be saved from resource waste, psychological trauma and strains on donor-government relations, with timely delivery of services.

Dhungana is a project management professional working on reconstruction of educational and health facilities in quake-affected areas