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Project success – it’s not about the execution

By MC Botha and Willem Louw
Willem Louw is the director of the Centre for Business Management of Projects. MC Botha is the academic head of the Centre for Business Management of Projects and also facilitates project management programmes presented by USB-ED.

On 16 October 2012 President Jacob Zuma made the following remark at the Presidential Infrastructure Investment Conference:

The infrastructure on the scale needed to transform our economy and social landscape will not come cheap. The cost of the Strategic Infrastructure Projects or SIPS are estimated at about four trillion rands over the next 15 years.

We, as a country, are embarking on an infrastructure project journey that commenced on 11 November 2011 when the National Development Plan (Vision 2030) was made public.  One of the key statements in the National Planning Document is the following:

Government’s ability to spend its infrastructure budget will be addressed, particularly with regard to project management capacity, long term planning and monitoring and evaluation of both expenditure patterns and construction work.
It is therefore evident that we, as a country, will have to up-skill not only our project management abilities, but also the business management of projects to ensure that the infrastructure budget is spent optimally.

Infrastructure projects are directly aimed at improving on service delivery demands and it is therefore  absolutely essential that capital projects to deliver on growth opportunities. The distinct reality is that large-scale capital projects often do not deliver on the strategic business objectives as anticipated during the time of sanctioning capital.  In the South African context, the possibility that strategic infrastructure projects fail to deliver in terms of the National Development Plan will obviously impact on the ideal of transforming the economic and social landscape.  South Africa cannot afford the situation of continued social unrest as a result of inadequate service delivery.  

The illustration below indicates processes typical in the domain of capital projects.

Front-end loading (also called front-end planning), is the structured process of planning (loading) for a project prior to execution to ensure that the project is ready for approval when the final investment decision by the project owner needs to be made. The warning that owners of capital projects have to heed is that sub-standard front-end planning is the single biggest contributor to project failure.  Too often project execution is seen as the remedy for poor planning, and the project manager is required to salvage vague business objectives and contracting strategies in an attempt to ensure achievement of strategic objectives.

USB-ED has therefore recognised the need for customised training specifically focused on the front-end in the domain of the broad spectrum of capital projects and has entered into discussions with international partners in respect of an Executive Programme to assist project owners to improve governance in large-scale capital projects.  This prestigious international programme will commence in 2013 and will be jointly hosted by USB-ED, IPA, UCL and Cranfield Business School.

Willem Louw and MC Botha recently returned from a visit to the Bartlett School of Project and Contraction Management at the University College of London and the School of Management at Cranfield University.  Pictured above are (fltr) Prof Frank Horwitz (director of the School of Management at Cranfield University), Bill Wilson (executive development officer, Centre for Customised Executive Development), Bill Shedden (director,  Centre for Customised Executive Development), Willem Louw and MC Botha.
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