Towards the advancement of project management practice in developing countries

the case of Nigeria

Abstract

Project management in most developing countries today continues to be fractured in its structure and approach, thereby triggering high degrees of failure, abandonment, or collapse of most government and private organisation projects. The resultant effect of this has been a colossal wastage of scarce resources, as well as deficiencies in the overall developmental needs within such countries. Previous studies have revealed that factors such as flawed project management practices have been responsible for such occurrences. In response to the aforementioned, this paper utilised a focus group comprised of select project management practitioners to examine the current trends in project management practice in developing countries. The findings identified several factors, including the incompetence of project management practitioners and the lack of understanding of the rudiments of project management as major barriers towards the advancement of project management in developing countries. The paper notes that regardless of the sizes of projects undertaken in developing countries, basic project management strategies must be adopted by government and private organisations. It also proposed that such strategies should not be a mere transfer from developed countries but must give thoughtful consideration to peculiar cultural factors affecting developing countries. The paper concludes by making recommendations for project management stakeholders within developing countries to purposefully instigate measures that sustain project management culture and to ensure that well-structured project governance frameworks are established and adhered to.

Keywords: developing countries; Nigeria; project management practice

Introduction

The world's developing countries have been engulfed in a myriad of social, political, and economic problems. These problems have resulted in an exacerbation of wide spread poverty, civil unrest, inadequate infrastructure, higher rates of unemployment, and so forth. Consequently, the execution of roads, dams, rural water supply, schools, houses, hospitals, factories, and other projects that support development have become imperative. This is because the initiation of these projects is considered to drive development and contribute towards the alleviation of the effects of most social, political, and economic problems. To guarantee the actualisation of such projects, especially within the limits of finite resources available in such countries, project management practice must be incorporated.

According to Project Management Institute (PMI), project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements (PMI, 2008). As a result, project management practices can be construed to be vital for the planning, organizing, managing, and control of activities, which lead to better performance and increased productivity for projects. Similarly, Kupakuwana and Van der berg, (2005) opined that the use of project management techniques and principles may lead to more effective service delivery and product success. Consequently, this paper, which forms part of an on-going research at the Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University, examines issues affecting project management practices in developing countries. The subsequent sections are organised to provide an overview of project management practice in developing countries, introduce the research method utilised, discuss findings, and propose a means towards its advancement.

Project Management Practice in Developing Countries

Cleland and Gareis (2006) revealed that the emergence of technological advancements and accelerated national and industrial developments have transformed project management practice into a highly sophisticated process over the years. Thus, Collyer and Warren (2009) proposed that the use of early warning signals aimed at managing risks in these developments should be adopted. This paper posits that tools and techniques from project management can be considered among such early warning signals, because project management supports the use of normative approaches for the effective management of projects.

In most developing countries, owing to social, political, and economic problems, as well as the low levels of infrastructural development, Diallo and Thuillier (2004) identified that the construction of roads, houses, water, and educational facilities, as well as other government core prerogatives, were among the key projects frequently executed. The majority of these projects may be funded independently by the home government or through direct or indirect support from external agencies. Several studies have examined project management practices in developing countries. For instance, Nguyen (2007) acknowledged the rising significance of project management practice in Vietnam but still highlighted the limited use of risk management techniques during project management practice because of its relatively unknown relevance. This disclosure may indicate the tendencies of heightened risks during the life cycles of most projects in Vietnam. Furthermore, Nguyen (2007) added that, ideally, project quality management, an integral component of project management practice, which should be closely associated with providing results that meet client requirements and expectations, was more associated with just achieving project technical specifications in Vietnam. This trend became responsible for the countless government documents that were supposed to give directions on how to meet quality requirements on projects but resulted in just the delivery of poor-quality projects that rarely reflected clients' critical needs.

Mbatha (1993) developed a framework for project management in Kenya. Although this is paper commends the efforts of Mbatha (1993), which was obviously aimed at propelling project management practice in Kenya, it reckons that Muriithi and Crawford (2003) suggested that project management practice utilises principles based on economic rationality. Thus, it argues that the application of such a framework for project management in a developing country like Kenya may become difficult to comprehend; this is because certain values in the Kenyan society may not explicitly support economic rationality.

For Nigeria, another leading developing nation, Odusami, Iyagba, and Omirin (2003) claimed that project management is still in its infancy stage. Their claims were established based on the absence of formalised project management frameworks or professionally recognised project management regulatory bodies in the country. This disclosure indicated that project management practice in Nigeria may be constantly enmeshed with similar challenges faced in other developing countries. Therefore, project management practice in Nigeria may, to a large extent, be characterised by a lack of top management awareness of project management practice, highly bureaucratized projects because of an over dependence on government for project funding and control as well as corrupt practices that may occur at various project phases. Similarly, evidence from Okereke (2012) indicated that failures in several projects in Nigeria may be attributable to the absence of structured project management practice. Furthermore, Lawal (2000) submitted that many projects embarked on by the Nigerian government have remained incomplete or abandoned due to poor project management.

Muriithi and Crawford (2003) listed the paucity of information on project management and insufficient literature describing the experiences of project managers as limiting factors for project management practice in most developing countries in Africa. Thus, it can be stated that project management practice in such countries will be characterised by the limited use of lessons learned from past projects. Being fully aware of the importance of lessons learned and documentation in project management, the current paucity of project management information experienced will never augur well for future projects and the effectiveness of project management practice in the concerned countries.

From the literature, it will be unmistakable to state that most writers portrayed a fairly unified perception of project management practice in developing countries. These writers, among other things, have identified that the lack of experienced personnel and inefficient administrative procedures frequently result in the poor implementation of project management practice in most developing nations. In light of the above, broad conclusions on the challenges of current project management practice can be drawn. However, being fully aware of the benefits of project management practice to society, this paper shall purposefully propose a means towards the advancement of project management practice in developing countries, with a primary focus on Nigeria.

Nigeria, with a population of approximately 154.7 million people, prides itself as the most populous country in Africa (World Bank, 2009). This figure comprises over 250 diverse ethnic groups presently dispersed among thirty-six states and the nation's federal capital territory. The fragmentations from the numerous ethnic groups have been relatively balanced by the country's federal structure, which places an emphasis on equal representation. Following several years of military rule and poor economic management, Okonjo-Iweala and Osafo-Kwaako (2007) observed that Nigeria has experienced prolonged periods of economic stagnation, rising poverty levels, and a decline of its public institutions. Furthermore, they stated that the lack of public investments in previous decades has resulted in severe infrastructural bottlenecks that hindered private sector activities. This paper considers that such disclosures bolster the need for rapid development in Nigeria. One means of achieving this is not just through the initiation of developmental projects but by encouraging project management practices that seamlessly guarantee the completion of projects.

Method

In order to achieve the objective of this paper, the qualitative method was found most suitable for data collection. It guaranteed an excellent means of understanding and assessing project management practice; Bryman and Bell (2011) noted that the qualitative method of data collection provides a detailed description of social practices while attempting to understand individual perspectives of their world.

A focus group discussion was conducted with ten participants. All participants had project management experience gained over several years; as such, their opinions were regarded as those of well-informed practitioners. The session lasted for about one hour, during which issues associated with project management practice in Nigeria were extensively discussed. The focus group provided a rich and in-depth means of gathering data in participant's words and reactions. For this paper, focus groups also proved to be a quick, flexible, and economical method of gathering information because it allowed the researchers to interact directly with participants and build upon the discussion as it progressed (Ghauri & Gronhaug, 2010). The discussions were recorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis. The data collected generated useful insights, which covered key areas relating to project management practice in Nigeria; subsequently, the data were organised into themes for discussions.

Findings

During the focus group session, several remarkable and informative points were raised. First, all participants acknowledged the relevance of project management practice in their business and organisational endeavours. They noted that incompetent project management practitioners and political and economic uncertainties were among the several pitfalls in current project management practice in Nigeria. However, it was revealed that some of the pitfalls mentioned could be mitigated by engaging highly competent personnel and by establishing a project management culture within organisations and government establishments.

The participants also emphasised the relevance of adopting defined project management methodologies, the need for additional support for project management education and training, utilising enhanced project management communication strategies for organisations, and government support during project handling. Finally, participants highlighted the need for project stakeholders to have an awareness of project performance and quality plan measures as well as an in-depth comprehension of the benefits accruable from projects being executed.

Discussion

In line with the findings, this paper considers the adoption of distinct project management methodologies as very appropriate for developing countries. According to Turner (2009), a methodology is a structured approach or technique for project delivery consisting of a series of processes with defined resources and activities. Kerzner (2009) advised that one way of increasing the success rate of an organisation's project suite will be through the development of in-house project management methodologies. Stuckenbruck and Zomorrodian (1987), Kerzner (2009) and Hyvari (2006) also advocated for the use of standardised project management techniques. The adoption of such standardised techniques would be beneficial because this gets project management practitioners in developing countries to plan and execute projects with higher levels of precision and synergy, thereby supporting faster and more efficient project outcomes. Although the development of in-house methodologies and standardised techniques should be welcomed by organisations and governments in developing countries, this paper argues that clear consideration must be given to the nature of organisations, their operations and project management maturity level.

In support of this, Turner (2009) explained that certain project management techniques with Western origins might encounter complications during implementation in other countries, especially the developing nations. Writers, such as Muriithi and Crawford (2003), cited cultural issues as major impediments towards the implementation of effective project management practice in most developing countries. Hence, this paper proposes that any attempt to improve project management practice or formulate unique methodologies/ techniques in developing countries should not be a mere transfer from western practice but must also consider the cultural issues prevalent within the location of deployment and incorporate such factors when necessary. With regards to cultural issues, the aspiration of this paper is a holistic conceptualisation of cultural issues. Accordingly, the beliefs, values, representations, and shared experiences among project stakeholders, as well as corporate and professional cultural issues, should be given consideration while attempting to adopt any project management methodology in developing countries.

This paper is not unmindful that the adoption of in-house project management methodologies may not be feasible in certain organisations in developing countries due to peculiar circumstances that may surround their operations. Thus, alternatives must be sought and the use of external methodologies becomes the next feasible option. Commonly used methodologies include those based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) developed by Project Management Institute (PMI); Association for Project Management Body of Knowledge, developed by the Association for Project Management; and the Projects in Controlled Environments, which was established by the Office of Government Commerce, the United Kingdom. The methodologies introduced by these bodies have facilitated several project management standards, which are now widely used for global project management operations because of their perceived positive impact on workplace and overall project performance. These methodologies can be seamlessly utilised or adapted to fit the requirements of organisations and governments in developing countries.

Another issue of mention towards the advancement of project management in developing countries was the external environment. Factors like political, economic, social, legal, and technological factors, identified earlier on by the participants as pitfalls in current project management practice in developing countries, can be categorised as external environment factors. According to Pinto and Selvin (1989), some of these factors have significant impacts on the entire project phases, whereas others just have a greater impact on more specific project phases. Thi and Swierczek (2010) established that these external environment factors have significant and positive relationships on the overall project performance. Hence, what lies ahead for project management practice in developing countries is to ensure that adequate mitigation strategies are deployed when necessary to cater for the impact of the occurrence of any external environmental factor. The use of insurance organisations and well-structured risk management systems are proven strategies for mitigating the effects of external environmental factors.

The findings also underscored the need for project stakeholders to have an awareness of performance and quality plan measures as well as an in-depth comprehension of the benefits accruable from projects executed. This clearly indicates the need for having a governance structure for projects undertaken in developing countries. According to Renz (2007), project governance is a process-oriented system in which projects are strategically directed, jointly managed, and holistically controlled in an entrepreneurial and ethically reflected manner appropriate to the singular, time-wise limited, interdisciplinary, and complex context of projects. This definition illustrates that project governance plays a pivotal role for successful project execution. Therefore, this paper posits that by enshrining and adhering to the fundamental principles of project governance, project management practice in developing countries will be able to strike an adequate balance between delegation and accountability and create good working relationships among the project stakeholders.

Even as past literature, for example Odusami et al. (2003), claimed the nonexistence of standardised project management practice associations, several participants articulated that project management practice in Nigeria has made remarkable improvements. They cited the emergence of nascent associations like the Nigerian chapter of PMI, the Nigerian Association for Project Management (NAPM) to buttress their opinions on improvements in current project management practice in Nigeria. Although the emergence of such bodies is a well-received development for project management practice in Nigeria, more efforts still need to be put in place. Hence, the paper urges project management practitioners in Nigeria and other developing countries to champion the introduction of relevant communities of project management practice and specific interest groups. This move will encourage more effectively sustained project management culture.

Additionally, with growing evidence of the relevance of project management to organisations and the larger society, the paper encourages governments at all levels; higher education service providers; management educators and trainers to launch training programs, university degrees, and specialized courses focused on project management. This will guarantee the training of future project management practitioners while also creating an opportunity for current practitioners to have a means of being repositioned in line with present day project management realities. In addition to the issues discussed, the following points should be considered towards the advancement of project management practice in developing countries:

  • Government and organisations at all levels should instigate the establishment of project management offices (PMOs) as key departments in their agencies;
  • The introduction of enhanced project management communication strategies. This is because the timely management of communication among relevant channels is critical for effective project management;
  • A defined project monitoring and reporting system that guarantees effective project control and provides timely information on past and current projects; and
  • Governments and organisations in developing countries should accept the fact that, there are trained project management professionals. Consequently, only such professionals should be involved in the management of their projects.

Conclusion

With the myriad of social, political, and economic problems that have characterised developing countries, an understanding and effective application of principles from core project management practice should obviously become an important strategy for stakeholders striving to achieve successful projects in such countries. This is because project management practice relates with the planning, organizing, directing, and controlling of resources to achieve desired outcomes, which have desirable impacts on society.

This paper examined the current status of project management practice in developing countries, with a focus on Nigeria. The relevance of the topic is grasped in the context in which project management practice has been confronted within Nigeria and other developing countries over the past years. It concluded that in order to advance project management in developing countries, stakeholders must step up and promote contemporary project management practices based on the findings of this paper. The authors note that, although the aspirations elucidated above are not necessarily a panacea towards the advancement of project management practice in developing countries, they appear to be the most logical aspirations for a more effective project management practice in light of the findings.

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1 Corresponding author T.Zuofa@2011.ljmu.ac.uk

©2012 Project Management Institute

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