Abandoned projects. Oh, the shame of it all.

Professor Ukwuoma, President of APPMA

Professor Ukwuoma, President of APPMA

Nigeria is turning out to be the poster child for everything wrong with projects and project management. It’s not that projects are failing, they’re failing in a way that is shocking: they are being abandoned. In fact, approximately 12,000 projects have been abandoned in the past 40 years!

In an interview conducted by Emeka Anuforo for The Guardian with Professor Okechukwu Ukwuoma, President of the African Project and Program Management Association (APPMA), we get some insight as to the magnitude and causes of the problem. Professor Ukwuoma begins the interview by saying that the level of project abandonment is “scary and…impinges on the national economy in disastrous ways.”

When asked what factors contributed to such a sad, and I would think embarrassing, state of affairs he said (I’ve edited his remarks for brevity)

First, projects are initiated without evaluating the business needs that the project will fulfill. As such, there is little commitment to finishing them because they have no business purpose.

Second, many projects are started without project planning, which involves project design. The design includes all the necessary requirements and specifications the project will satisfy.

Third, most of the projects were executed by those who have little, if any, project management skills. While engineers and architects are very good in design they still need to be skilled in project management to deliver quality projects.

Fourth, there seems to be lack of project monitoring and evaluation to certify that what was designed was delivered. Payment to the contractor should be based on the fact the contractor delivered in accordance with the specifications.

Professor Ukwuoma also says that public infrastructure projects account for most of the abandoned projects and that those projects are generally awarded based on “political considerations to party loyalists even when they do not possess any technical knowledge” of the project. 

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As regards the level of project management knowledge in Nigeria he says that it is in its infancy when compared to the knowledge in the engineering professions. He complains that “every professional from engineering, surveying, estate management, and even economics claim to be project managers.” However, he’s encouraged that the Nigeria is focusing on this lack of talent through government support and some university training. But it seems there’s a long way to go.

Professor Ukwuoma certainly understands the nexus between project management and economic development. He says that investments in modern infrastructure projects spur economic development and growth. Constructing buildings, roads, power plants, and the like creates jobs and provides a basis for economic development in the country. Doing this successfully is the key. He defines a successful project as one that has “accomplished its technical performance, maintained its schedule, and remained within its budget” and that project management is the vehicle to do this.

Looking more broadly at the project management landscape he laments that Africa generally has been at the receiving end of poorly managed projects. His vision, as the President of APPMA is “fully capture the interest of African citizens and media by hosting training programmes, workshops and conferences for its members, journalists, and all who have something to do with project, program and procurement management. APPMA under my leadership will…build a culture that will give people vision on how to apply sound techniques and practices to project and programs.”

What does this have to do with us? Well, as I review the four key factors above, it’s pretty clear to me that while Nigeria might be a worst case scenario, we certainly see these very same factors plague many other projects as well. As regards awarding public contracts to political loyalists, Nigeria hasn’t cornered the market on this type of corruption. The toxic combination of crooked construction executives and venal politicians is a chronic problem costing tax payers millions upon millions wherever public money comes into contact with the construction industry. All the great project management on earth won’t solve that problem.

I love reading about people who are “on a mission,” who have a clear purpose in life, and are going at it with gusto. Professor Ukwuoma is one of these folks. He’s fighting the good fight as they say. Good for him!

Want to see more pics of abandoned projects? Go here.

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