In the local construction industry, the biggest infrastructure projects are dominated by large multinational companies. Local contractors are left to make do with “leftovers” or subcontracting to these larger players. It is therefore of no surprise that there is mounting resentment of this foreign dominance, with local contractors demanding that their turn is overdue. This trend is also consistent with the country’s local empowerment strategies. The question is, how legitimate is this claim, and what needs to change to reverse the status quo. In this article, I will focus on just one aspect of this multifaceted challenge.
Let’s begin by contrasting these industry players. Typically, the large multinational companies have, or are expected to have more capacity. They have established systems and process, skills and competencies that enable them to handle the complexity and scale of large projects. Broadly speaking this is an indisputable reality, although it frequently does not translate into the results that stakeholders and clients would expect: successful project delivery.
On the other hand, local contractors tend to be small in scale and without a proven track-record. In a classic chicken and egg scenario, their lack of experience is the reason cited for not giving them the big jobs, but how can they get the experience if no one awards them the jobs! In any case, frequently, they are not resourced with the prerequisite skills and experience, even in cases where they are run by suitably qualified architects, engineers, and quantity surveyors. And as I will elaborate in the following sections, they more frequently than not do not have the required systems and processes to manage large-scale or complex projects.
How does the small contractor generally manage a project? What should be carried by the systems and processes is substituted with “common sense”. The planning and execution, be it scheduling, budgeting, risks management, monitoring, and control, is done, “in the head”. And when explicit plans and budgets are done, it is frequently for narrowly defined reasons, such as to meet tender and contractual requirements. There is no universal appreciation of the value of the “Gantt charts and critical path analysis”, beyond clinching the deal and appeasing a demanding client. And as a result, the benefit derived from these tools is at best minimal.
If local contractors are to graduate from small time projects and rub shoulders with the major players, they will need to embrace proper project management. They need to appreciate the value of the application of project management best practice. Now, most people dismiss the so-called “best practice”, as “just theory” or “academic stuff”. This is a misguided point of view. What best practice is, is the application of what has been found to work best for most projects most of the time. Standards such as the PMBOK and PRINCE2 where not developed by detached university academics and theorists. They were progressively developed through reference to how the best performing projects are managed. By continuously harmonising these best industry practices, over time a “body of knowledge” has been developed, which represents the best-known way of successfully delivering a project. Therefore, when you deviate from best practice, whilst it does not necessarily mean what you are doing is wrong, it does suggest it is not proven. Therefore, you risk reinventing the wheel and repeating known mistakes.
A frequently expressed refrain is the applicability of best practices developed in the western world and applied locally. This is a valid concern. This emphasises the importance of local professionals, which we have in abundance, coming in and tailoring these practices to the local context. The recent developments to establish a local PMI chapter represent a promising development in this regard.
So in closing, the local industry needs a paradigm shift, and change in mindset, to embrace project management best practices and build the necessary skills, competencies, and capacity. The crux of the matter is that the project owners want to ensure that the organisations hired to deliver a project, will do so cost effectively, timeously and to the agreed upon quality standards. The adoption of “best practice” project management practices by local construction organisations will garner trust in the project owners that their projects will be delivered well while simultaneously positioning themselves within the local market as organisations capable of successful project delivery.
Chilipi Mogasha holds the position of Operations Director at InnoLead Consulting offering Management Consultancy and Corporate Training Solutions. He can be contacted on +267 3909102 and email@example.com