Thursday 28th April 2005


Project management

Bringing vision into reality

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By Joseph Khan

Becoming a global leader and achieving a competitive advantage in today’s era of rapid change and development requires vision.

More importantly, it necessitates a plan and a vehicle to realise that vision. Unfortunately, we have become known for conceptualising wonderful and innovative ideas and leaving them as just that—mere ideas, not progressing beyond the actual blueprint nor exploring options to achieve success.

Why is this so? Is it that we are not adopting a feasible approach that would ensure fruition of these ideas and dreams? Or could it be that we are deficient in basic skills of developing action plans and structured approaches?

Project management is one feasible approach for ensuring that our dreams are realised, and abstract thoughts are conceived, specifically from a business perspective.

This approach is by no means new. Project management is defined by the International Project Management Association as the “application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities that advertently bring about a desirable result.”

Project management is both an art and a science of managing related and unrelated undertakings of varying complexities. It is certainly not confined to the construction environment alone, as is often believed.

As knowledge areas such as cost, time, risk, procurement and scope management are applicable, the art of project management can also be used in the areas of accounting, public sector administration, social community projects, information technology or even addressing a crisis or disaster situation.

As a tool, project management can be seen as a tactical scheme for accomplishing tasks with which many organisations would usually have challenges. Once executed effectively, it usually produces successful outcomes.

Project management gives relevance to organisations that are cost leaders, as well as those that are aiming to differentiate their products in the market. Both are attempting to accomplish one common goal—satisfy customers demanding their goods or services “as of yesterday.”

Wanting a product “as of yesterday,” causes the performing organisation to operate within the parameters of an “unforgiving environment.” This means delivering at the lowest cost, by a deadline, within the quality specifications, as well as providing an acceptable customer service. These constraints by no means reduce the stress and anxiety of the performing organisation’s human resource.

Competing with project constraints and increased customer demands requires a more systematic approach to achieve project objectives. This approach adopts procedures and processes especially in the areas of cost estimation, scope and time management. The Piarco Airport project, still a topic of controversy and debate for the project management fraternity, is the result of doing otherwise.

The controversial nature of this project, in particular, is owed to the fact that it was associated with excessive cost and schedule overruns, as well as questions on the quality of its deliverables.

Cost overruns, scope changes and poor quality in simple undertakings such as road resurfacing, construction of the Tobago hospital, construction of the Biche High school or even the never-ending “Water for all” project are inexcusable in the information age.

That a fire from a shack wiped out several businesses in Port-of-Spain and threatened the entire capital city screams the need for proper planning and risk management.

In applying the project management methodology, we must first recognise that we are actually embarking on a project, especially within functional organisations where departments such as marketing, research, engineering or maintenance exist.

Within these departments we are commonly faced with developing a marketing plan, improving customer service, planning for a major overhaul or designing a training programme.

These are all projects—temporary endeavours undertaken to create a specific and unique product, service or result.

Projects may be divided into phases to provide better management control. This is referred to as the “project life cycle.”

Futhermore, there is a body of knowledge which should be religiously applied to each phase of a project to ensure conformity to procedures and standards. Flexibility is built into the process as projects can vary in both duration and level of complexity, making the technique applicable to almost all efforts.

BpTT’s recently completed Cannonball platform is an example of a successful project management approach of great magnitude and scope.

Cannonball cost approximately US$139million and was the first of its kind in T&T with 65 per cent of the project management, engineering and fabrication works executed by locals.

Cannonball was completed on time, within budget and satisfactorily met all international requirements.

It is obvious that T&T has the potential for becoming a global leader in this aspect of construction. Our approach, however, is a critical factor in the equation.

As a country, we are presently attempting to create our own “Cannonball,” commonly known as Vision 2020. This massive undertaking may be viewed as a complex but achievable series of projects.

The project management approach is helpful here, bearing in mind that Vision 2020 means increased road development, new housing projects, expansions of hospitals and the alleviation of crime and poverty, which all translate into a huge outpouring of government spending.

Embarking on large multiple projects over the next 15 years will be a challenge for T&T. It will involve a number of associated risks that could be difficult to overcome, but the prudent use of project management techniques could ensure that our vision is accomplished.

Project management methodology is here and we should take full advantage of the opportunities to tap into the wealth of information, resources and tools that it offers.

It is time to stop accepting the ad hoc approach to project implementation and apply order so that positive outcomes can be attained. Let us make better use of our available resources by utilising project management techniques that will ensure successful completion of our tasks and projects within budget and on time.

As business organisations, we must remember that a successful project depends on structures, systems, procedures, planning, as well as appropriate and efficient use of people.

Moving from a functional mode of operation to the application of project management will help us to move our ideas from the drawing board to successful implementation, ensuring that our visions are realised.

Joseph Khan is a senior associate, project management at the UWI-IOB’s Centre for Training and Development. He can be reached at 662-9894 ext 123, e-mail address: [email protected]




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