A GLIMPSE INTO WHY PROJECTS FAIL IN AFRICA AND BEYOND

By Ing. Yayah A.B. Conteh

A project is no more than a planned piece of work that is designed to achieve a desired purpose, particularly to improve upon something old or to produce something new.

For efforts in project management to yield fruitful dividends, there is the urge to have them divided into a series of logical and managerial steps, ranging from project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control to project closure itself. This sequence of phases that a project goes through from its initiation to closure is referred to as the project life cycle. And he who is charged with the overall responsibility for the successful implementation of a project from the initiation to the closure phases is referred to as the Project Manager.

It is no exaggeration to highlight here that, in the cut-throat rush towards civilization in most of our societies today, African and non-African alike, the frequent failing of projects intended to meet their targeted cost, time and scope, is a common phenomenon.

For various reasons, spanning from the colonial period to the present, many projects that were embarked upon for developmental purposes, particularly in Africa, either collapsed mid-way during the period of implementation or got cancelled altogether for not having served any useful purposes.

The history of project management in Africa and even beyond is replete with striking examples of many failed ones, which proved unsuitable for their intended purposes.

In terms of time, budget and scope, many project analysts have confirmed that an appreciable percentage (exceeding 50%) of various World Bank Projects initiated particularly in Africa did not achieve or meet their goals and objectives. They crumbled along the way, somewhere between the periods of initiation and closure of same.

The argument is further advanced by other analysts that project management is considered as the promise and future for developing countries and that for it to achieve its development goals and objectives, partners and stakeholders should cultivate an extremely collaborative relationship in order to bring to fruition not only the plans but the short and long term goals as enshrined in the project document to be implemented.

Some of the main common causes of project failure in developing countries can be summarized but not limited to the following:

  • Communication Management– The Project Manager’s greatest asset, they say, are communication skills. It is the first responsibility of the project planner that helps everything else to progress unhindered. Failure of project planners not to communicate project schedules on time to project executives, or not to report at all has helped hasten the collapse of many good projects. Due to misinformation, most of the aims and objectives of these projects are shattered.
  • Poorly defined project scope– No matter the magnitude and nature of any project, it must possess proper aims and objectives including goals and missions too. Any project that is deficient in these is most likely bound to fail as the management team would always prove incapable of furnishing a clear visualization of the gains and successes that the project can attain in case it is fully implemented.
  • The abundance of unnecessary resources– The injection of the project implementation with excessive resources by project managers equally derails the progress of many a good project. It is common practice that project executives cultivate the habit of allocating resources to their immediate subordinates, the project managers. These managers in a bid to make haste in achieving the expected objectives of the project, flood the project implementation with excessive resources. The resultant effect here is the mushrooming of many other projects to tackle within a limited space of time. Some of the projects will be forgotten at the expense of others and in such circumstances the project is bound the fail.
  • Overambitious and technically deficient designs– Problems associated with poor project analysis design and implementation often surface from time to time in project management ventures. One of the common problems that arise from poor project design includes the development of project objectives that are not consistent with the needs and values of intended beneficiaries. This goes a long way to alter in no small measure the composition or eventual outlook of the intended purpose of any project, small or big.
  • Project underfunding– It can be stated here, in no unmistakable terms, that all projects of whatever magnitude need funds to get them afoot. The skills and know-how employed in the factories and establishments that seek project implementation can only be appreciated through these funds. Fundamentally, monetary items are usually the most sought-out for. Not only money but the skills and human power needed for the successful implementation of the project constitute the resources too.
  • Clash or conflict of interest- A project is bound to fail dismally where there is a clash or conflict of interest or intra-personal squabbles amongst the executives, project managers and other team members. Conflicts of interest that arise or emerge during the project formulation process must be nipped in the bud and allowed to die a natural death in order for the project to succeed and flourish.

The common reasons for project failures or the threats to the conduct of development assistance projects in Africa and beyond are manifold, ranging from incompatible host and donor management systems including endemic corruption, inadequate risk management, lack of commitment by project leaders, delays in payment, political interferences, poor planning to changes in government policies, etc., etc.

Probably those who have not been able to measure up to the challenges posed by project management, especially in Africa, argue that the cause of this deficiency is because the western concepts of project management are not necessarily applicable in African countries. They further argue that the gaps that emerge as a result of this deficiency can be attributed to the fact that some of the standards and practices of project management, which are not fully implemented, are equally not flexible and adaptable to a typical African environment.

Whatever the nature and depth of arguments and contradictions in this direction, let it be borne in mind that the essential project management skills any project manager should possess, amongst many others, in order to ensure the success and sustainability of any given project are, firstly, the leadership acumen to make things and events move and secondly, a robust communication system that should go hand-in-hand with that leadership, otherwise most efforts that would be geared towards project management and implementation in Africa and beyond would always be beset with numerous challenges.

 

Ing. Yayah A.B. Conteh is the Director of the Mechanical Services Department (MSD) of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA).

Tel. Nos: 076640364/077718805.

E-mail: contehyayahab@gmail.com.

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