Why projects fail: A book in the right direction


Why projects fail: A book in the right direction

THE most common consideration or question we ask in mundane affairs is the cost. No matter what specialty or field of work, the mind is always busy calculating financial effects, cost-benefit, feasibility or viability and sustainability.

Similarly, any government in the world has its financial department, ministry and audit system.

The penalty is almost always a common denominator in all contracts or agreements. Good governance begets financial efficiency, one of the significant areas of expenditure in our govt developmental programs.

Every year, the national budget allocates a substantial amount in this head. The Planning Commission of Pakistan is responsible for undertaking projects in collaboration with other ministries; other expenditures of the budget head expenditures, such as defense, health, education, transport, etc., remain under the watchful eye of the public or its representatives.

Still, the project’s budget allocation remains in the background. Likewise, the fate of the project (good or bad) remains confined to the corridors of power, i.e. bureaucracy or executive leadership of the country.

Different countries use project managers and teams to safeguard the interest of public or private entities.

Project management was previously taught to engineers in the formative engineering bachelor’s degree program, but later it emerged as a specialization like business administration or environmental science.

The Planning Commission of Pakistan is entrusted with this sacred task. Some public sector development programs are funded by foreign donors who extend money on loans and take interest from the government.

Some other programs get funded by the local government from their resources. Upon assuming charge of the country, the political leader initiates programs to achieve their political objectives and asks the Planning Commission to undertake programs in line with its policies.

Syed Irtiqa Ahmed Zaidi is a retired bureaucrat who spent most of his career working with the Planning Commission or where the government undertook projects.

His book covers the entire history of the projects conducted by the government, starting from 1973 till 2010.

The book is a unique work as its author has treaded the history of major projects taken by the civil bureaucracy.

He has produced an excellent document covering some parts of Pakistan’s bureaucratic history, depicting initiation, intention, processes, procedures, financial aspects and results of the salient projects.

His personal experience and performance of the system are described in the story of Alice in wonderland.

His observations are valid and sharp and his deductions are accurate. But when he enters the magical world of power corridors and witnesses the wishes, whims and personal agenda of those powerful magicians, he is appalled and disappointed.

Finally, as in every fairy tale, the ultimate winner is truth, honesty and the ability to steer in the right direction while navigating the treacherous path.

Apart from storytelling, the book contains valuable suggestions to improve the working of government departments.

Therefore it’s an excellent guide to achieve Planning Commission reforms. This includes education, training and empowerment through legislation.

Education about project management (PM) for students from grade eight onwards must be included in the syllabus.

Training on PM to bureaucrats is the need of the hour. Besides, it is required to be introduced at the high school/college level to enable the students to organize them.

The author suggests constitutional protection/immunity to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission after selection on merit to a non-political expert for at least four years in the bureaucracy.

It’s time to revoke government officials’ immunity as was available before 1973. The National Assembly can deliberate this task through its legislation as the Ombudsman and National Accountability Bureau’s office have restored the official power balance of the officials.

Therefore it is considered a must-read for lawmakers, senators and officials at all levels. It would also help those involved in planning, financing, directing or executing projects of the government.

This book would also help them avoid waste of funds as most other ongoing funds need a yearly allocation.

If a new project is introduced without considering the funds already committed for other projects, none will be completed, thereby wasting precious public funds.

The book is a documented proof of what is hypothesized or practiced during project management courses.

Therefore, the HEC and Ministry of Education need to include some relevant chapters from this book in the syllabus.

It will also benefit officers of Defence Services, particularly the Navy, as its projects are of exceptionally high value and need maximum economy of resources through project management techniques and benefit from lessons learned from failed tasks.

It is also an excellent read for the leadership in all departments, both in the private and public sector, as it gives perfect examples of how the whims of leader and their blind followers cause a disaster at their levels and in the departments wherever they are.

All public and private libraries in Pakistan must keep several copies of their catalogues for leadership and management students.

Finance, medicine, engineering and even social sciences, as the book covers scientific methods of work or work ethics, also bears a torch for preparing oneself for an unblemished yet successful career.

This success may vary in degree, but the ultimate success in the world hereafter would be assured, Insha Allah.

—The writer is a retired Commodore from Pakistan Navy.