Game changes as more companies use project management to reach goals

by: Dumile Sibindana


MORE and more companies are setting up project teams regardless of the industry and sectors in which they operate. In the past, project management was limited to a little-used industrial engineering discipline, but today the rules have changed — or rather, the game has changed.

In the 1990s, most corporate managers considered projects to be the realm of engineers or the IT department, but this century more organisations are adopting the project management discipline to better achieve their targets.

Both the public and private sectors have “projectised” their work and are looking to the classic discipline of project management to give them greater productivity and a faster response to changing market conditions.

The global economy is characterised by change and this means projects are changing, which translates into project management initiatives that should be in place to achieve the projected targets.

The challenge of implementing successful project management initiatives lies in the structure of the project to be undertaken. Very often, this is where management consultants are deployed. As value-creating agents, the consultants’ task is “fixing” the things that are wrong within an organisation or, perhaps in less drastic circumstances, augmenting a business process or rectifying a structural deficiency.

But appointing the consultants is the easiest part; the challenges follow soon after. “In large-scale projects there is a need to form a consortium that a client can view as ‘a single body’. There should be an appointed PM (project manager) who will represent the consortium and be the client’s single point of reference,” says Themba Moyo, chief operating officer of Mandla Mlangeni Quantity Surveyors.

The reasons for this are pretty straightforward: setting up a “command structure” that will work and through which the will of the various interest groups in the project can be articulated.

Alternatively, some companies have a projects wing functioning as a separate but interdependent department. Over the long run this will be more cost-effective as the cost of consultants easily runs to millions for bigger, more specialised projects that take years to reach fruition.

This may appear to be the obvious route but it comes with a distinct challenge: a company may have suitably qualified project practitioners and employees with other requisite skills such as finance and legal knowledge at their disposal, but the projects discipline is the one most characterised by change.

Depending on the company and its scope of work, it may ultimately have to outsource other skilled labour. In a country such as SA, that is a challenge as there is a huge skills shortage in several specialised fields. The often abrupt need to outsource extends further than the realms of the engineering and “project-based” spheres.

Financial institutions and intermediaries play an integral role in facilitating the movement of capital to such markets and they too have realised the need to strengthen their project management capabilities in such instances.

The question is not whether a company should have an in-house projects team or go the consultancy route — both have their advantages and disadvantages. The key lies in the company knowing where its skills deficiencies lie pertaining to the work they do and the projects they undertake. With this knowledge they can then balance the need to outsource consultants and having an in-house team that would draft the blueprint for all project-related activities within the organisation.

It is impossible for a CEO, sales director, marketing manager of new product development, or the owner of a construction or consulting firm to optimise their organisation’s project performance if they cannot speak the language of project management. Simultaneously, the discipline of project management is insufficient for managing an entire company, and the key lies in how companies strike the balance between optimising the resources at hand while facilitating project teams and managing the core side of their businesses.

About the Author

Sibindana is a project administrator for an engineering firm.

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