For encouraging higher project standards in a still-emerging Pakistan
The good news: Pakistan is experiencing a massive influx of foreign direct investment, driven by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, an ambitious US$62 billion program of infrastructure, energy and telecom projects. The challenge: Pakistan’s uncertain ability to maximize these opportunities. Syed Ahsan Mustaqeem is making bold efforts to accelerate the country’s project management prowess.
With a decade of on-the-job experience on energy projects—including his current stint at Pakistan Petroleum Ltd.—Mustaqeem knows firsthand that it doesn’t matter how much funding is thrown at an initiative if it doesn’t have the right people with the right skills. At the Institute of Business Administration Karachi, he’s spearheaded research to put hard numbers to that intuitive knowledge.
A 2020 paper he authored for Business Review showed that only 24 percent of projects carried out in Pakistan are successful. He hopes that sobering stat motivates young talent to push organizations to elevate their game. Along with the cold, hard data, Mustaqeem also released a framework for project professionals, academics and regulatory authorities aimed at improving maturity in the profession.
“Automation, human-machine collaboration, AI and data-intelligence solutions are poised to change the entire landscape—of business and of project management,” he says. “And young people are the torchbearers of adaptation.”
Q&A: Syed Ahsan Mustaqeem on today’s talent market and the power of online access
What project most influenced you personally?
As a kid growing up in Karachi, I used to find solace in the quiet reading room of libraries, rushing after school to engross myself in the ocean of information available there. But when ethnic violence and unrest started, children were mostly confined to their homes after school. I still remember my first interaction with the World Wide Web. I was baffled that all the information I used to search for tirelessly in libraries for hours was at my disposal, just a click away. The web became a savior for many children, like me, who were confined to their homes.
What’s the most influential project you’ve worked on?
I’ve worked on many important megaprojects, but I still consider the first project of my career to be the most influential. It was a United Nations project to comply with Pakistan’s obligations under the Montreal Protocol to phase out chlorofluorocarbons, which are ozone-depleting chemicals that were used in the manufacturing of refrigeration equipment.
What makes the project stand out is the novelty: the first time this sort of initiative was carried out, under strict deadlines and with multichannel reporting, as major stakeholders included the donor agency, the environmental ministry, suppliers and the sponsor organization.
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
Young people are at the heart of project management. Along with the big traditional organizations embracing the projectized structure, we’re experiencing the projectization of the workforce for the first time in history. Youth nowadays join companies not to fill a title, but to address a specific mission. This transition in employment philosophy, based on short-term, assignment-based engagement rather than indefinite tenure, has stepped up competition for talent and contributed greatly to value delivery in the projects.