Project Management Institute

Master planning in developing countries

Many areas of the world are attempting to rapidly develop modern industrial and/or agricultural facilities along with the supporting infrastructure — transportation, utilities, schools, communications, healthcare, and housing facilities. These areas include countries with extensive energy, or other resources (e.g., Kuwait or Saudi Arabia), large populations (e.g., India or China), or both (e.g., Nigeria or Indonesia). All have a common need for ongoing planning in order to commit wisely the large amounts of capital and manpower required for their development programs.

This paper addresses the subject of master planning in developing countries. The presentation is primarily from the viewpoint of the master plan management with major emphasis on “how to” issues. Also, the types of activities considered are primarily large, regional planning efforts for major development projects. Recent examples of extensive master planning, of the type considered here, include:

  • The Jubail and Yanbu industrial complexes in Saudi Arabia
  • The CEMEL development in Algeria
  • Carbozulia coal development in Venezuela
  • Fajala regional heavy oil development in Venezuela

In these and similar master plans the objective is usually to provide an overall conceptual plan, including such items as:

  • Preliminary technical descriptions of industrial, agricultural, and/or infrastructural elements
  • Overall scheduling of the major plan elements
  • Expected manpower requirements by type, numbers, and training
  • Estimated capital and operating costs of the development
  • A detailed plan for implementation

The preparation of the above types of information is made difficult by certain problems often inherent in developing countries. These may include difficulty in communications and travel both to and from and within the host country. Housing and office facilities are frequently difficult to obtain and are usually very expensive. Important data is often nonexistent or difficult to ascertain. Finally, differences in languages create additional communications problems.

This paper thus addresses certain planning principles meant to alleviate these types of problems and to achieve a coherent master plan. To illustrate such principles, the master planning of a hypothetical agro-industrial complex in the Middle East is considered. While hypothetical, such an example will point out many of the issues faced in “real” master plans. The agro-industrial complex is assumed to contain the following major features:

  • The site is in a coastal, arid region with groundwater nearby.
  • Indigenous natural gas is to be used along with certain other feedstocks to make chemical fertilizers.
  • Approximately 50-100,000 acres of irrigated agriculture are to be developed.
  • Certain supporting industries (e.g., farm implement repair) and secondary industries (e.g., food processing) are to be provided.
  • A new town of approximately 50,000 people is planned to support these activities.

The problem at hand is, therefore, to prepare a master plan for this development. It is assumed that 15 months are available for master plan preparation, and that a budget of approximately $5 million is to be utilized. The organization and staffing of the master planning team is addressed first, followed by the mechanics of master plan preparation and by key issues related to plan implementation.

Organization and Staffing

For major master planning efforts the project team approach is normally preferred. A typical team contains the following personnel:

  • Project management
  • Consultants
  • Technical groups
  • Administrative support
  • Editorial staff
  • Home office support

For the agro-industrial complex considered herein, a project team such as that shown in figure 1 is suggested. The major elements of this project team are discussed below, including (1) major functions of each team component and (2) issues related to physical location of team members. In this latter regard, it is assumed that two major master plan offices are to be established; the “project office” in the host country’s capital city and the “home office” in the master planning firm’s headquarters.

The project management may consist of a single individual or may include a deputy project manager for very large activities. In this case, both positions have been assumed, with the project manager located in the project office and his deputy in the home office. The project manager should, first of all, be a skilled manager with experience in master planning per se and/or some of the key technical areas. Since the output of the master plan will be a series of reports, the project manager should be familiar with good report writing techniques and have the ability to serve as editor-in-chief. Finally, knowledge of the country/client in question is a strong plus for a candidate project manager. The deputy project manager should, of course, have as many of these traits as possible.

For the particular project team in figure 1, it is suggested that the project manager and deputy have the major responsibilities outlined in table 1.

As shown in figure 1, there are a number of technical groups on the project team, each headed by a group manager. These include the areas of primary industry, agriculture, communications, transportation (air, water, land), energy, water, waste disposal, manpower resources, community development, and economics. The circled numbers by project management and the various technical groups indicate master plan volume responsibilities. The contents of each volume are discussed later.

Master plan project team

Figure 1. Master plan project team

Table 1.Management Responsibilities

Project Manager

Deputy Project Manager

1. Overall technical and financial control of the project

1. Act for project manager where required in his absence

2. Primary contact with client

2. Coordinate the home office technical and editorial efforts

3. Coordinate in-country data collection and “politics” with host country agencies

3. Provide strong administrative support to the project manager

4. Have major input to, and review of, initial master plan concepts

4. Coordinate the work of outside consultants with the appropriate technical group(s)

5. Serve as editor-in chief of final reports

The technical groups will, in general, maintain a continuing presence in the host country during much of the project in order to (1) collect relevant data, (2) formulate initial concepts, (3) and review alternative concepts with client and other interested personnel. It is imperative that the technical competence of the in-country personnel be above question as many difficult problems will have to be addressed without easy accessibility to other technical staff. A strong degree of continuity in these personnel is also important in order to establish liaisons with specialists in the host country. Also, the technical groups must coordinate closely with any project consultants utilized.

Home office personnel will normally be required to support the in-country technical staff by “fleshing-out” the concepts developed in the field, providing specialty review and input, preparing final illustrative and written materials, and providing additional inputs in such areas as construction scheduling and cost estimating.

It is the role of the editorial staff to collect all concepts, schedules, cost estimates, and written descriptions and prepare a total coherent final report. Such a staff normally includes technical writers, illustrators, and typists. Most of this staff would be based in the home office with perhaps one or two people assigned to the project office to assist with report drafts.

As discussed more fully later, a complex set of report volumes usually results from major master planning efforts, and good editorial support is crucial in producing a readable, internally consistent master plan.

The administrative support to project management will come through personnel experienced in project cost and manhour control, accounting, personnel policies, and office/housing maintenance. These types of support assume much larger than normal importance in such countries where “everything is difficult.”

Master Plan Preparation

Like most other project activities, perhaps the fundamental area of master planning is the early stages where direction for the total effort is largely established. In carrying out the required project planning, as well as in plan preparation, the following key characteristics are important:

  • The time for master plan preparation is often short, in this case 15 months
  • Much of the required data is often nonexistent, or difficult to obtain
  • Extensive production and coordination efforts are required to prepare master plan reports, often in several locations
  • There is a need to have significant review by the client and other interested parites. Such review must often be performed by relatively few trained personnel, who are often very busy with other development activities.
  • The master plan itself is not an “end-all” document which requires extreme detail and accuracy. Rather, it is a starting point for which clarity, consistency, and ongoing usability are most important.

With the above factors in mind, several basic elements of the preparative of the argo-industrial complex master plan are described below. These elements include: (1) planning and scheduling, (2) organization of the final report, and (3) coordination of plan preparation. Items related specifically to master plan implementation are covered later.

Planning and Scheduling

For both scheduling and cost control reasons it is imperative that the project be planned carefully before such expensive tasks as data collection begin. This planning phase should contain such elements as the following:

  • An initial critical path or PERT-type schedule of the entire master planning project (based on the scope of work presumably contained in the contract with the client)
  • An expected table of contents or other type of outline for the final report
  • A schedule of manhours, by discipline, versus time
  • The estimated costs of the scheduled manhours, as well as other direct costs such as travel, supplies and materials, in-country support costs, and so forth

Once the basic costs and scheduling information are developed, the more extensive jobs of data collection, concepts planning, and report writing can begin. Unfortunately, some master plans have begun with large numbers of uninstructed personnel swarming over the host country looking for “data.” This, of course, “chews up” dollars rapidly with usually very little worthwhile return on the investment, and can lead to problems with the client because of repetitive data gathering missions.

As work proceeds, it is very important for project management to have means for controlling manhours (and costs) as well as work progress in “real time.” Since most costs are associated with manhours, it is imperative that a weekly record of actual versus scheduled manhours be available. All travel should be planned as far in advance as possible since:

  • Travel, in itself, is costly.
  • Substantial amounts of manhours are usually involved in travel to the host country.
  • Often, more people than necessary travel on “data collection” trips, involving a manhour ripple effect in obtaining visas, in-country support, and so forth.
  • Each traveller is a representative of the master planning firm and “too many faces” can confuse and upset the client.

Although there are many ways to attack the master planning problem, one suggested overall scheduling approach is outlined in table 2. Since timing and work scope are closely tied together, both are shown in the following simplified project approach for the agro-industrial complex master plan.

Table 2. A Suggested Project Schedule

Months Work Scope
0-2 (1) Assemble project team; complete administrative and personnel details. Select incountry personnel.
(2) Prepare overall project budget, schedule, and work scope. Establish project milestones.
(3) Outline interim and final reports.
1-4 (1) Locate in-country staff in host country.
(2) Collect initial data.
(3) Prepare initial master planning concepts.
3-6 Prepare first draft of entire report, leaving gaps where unavoidable.
6-9 Using above draft as vehicle, solicit comments and fill in data gaps. Carry out cost estimates; provide more detail on concepts.
10-13 Prepare draft of final report; review with client and others as required.
13-15 Arrange final report typing, in-house reviews

translation if necessary, and printing.

The above simplified approach is primarily based on the desirability of “final” report writing very early in the project. This is contrary to the approach used by many engineers and planners, because they fee 1 more comfortable with collecting all the required data and then writing the final report. However, the procedure of bringing everything together in a total report format several times has the major advantages of:

  • Providing an early framework for insertion of data, so that valuable manhours are spent on relevant, not academic, data gathering
  • Allowing continued interaction between various project disciplines. Many sections of the master plan report affect several other sections. (For example, a substantial change in industrial energy requirements would change not only energy supply planning, but amount of construction materials and staff, housing, manpower training, and so forth.)
  • Providing a coherent, overall vehicle for ongoing client review and upgrading of data and assumptions

Also implicit in the early report drafting concept is the use of a “base case” approach to master planning. In such an approach a preliminary overall concept (or base case) of the total master plan is developed in the first 38 three to five months of the project. Alternatives and modifications are then discussed as changes in the base case.

Final Report Organization

Perhaps the most important aspect of developing a usable master plan is the means of presenting the materials produced. A poorly organized master plan can suffer from the following problems:

  • Too much repetition of subject matter throughout the report(s), which often leads to the additional problem of internal inconsistencies
  • Difficulty for the reader in finding information
  • Problems for subsequent users of the report in updating master plan information

The actual organization of each master planning effort is, of course, an individual problem. However, the ninevolume set of reports suggested for an agro-industrial complex master plan is illustrative of several points. A major point is the use of a number of separate report volumes to allow individual use of a specific report by specialists (both client and project team) in that subject area. Another is the parallel organization of technical volumes.

The report volumes suggested are listed in table 3, with their major contents noted:

Table 3. Master Plan Volumes

Volume Title and Contents
1 Master Plan Summary. An executive summary of the entire master plan, with emphasis on major results and recommendations requiring management decisions. Includes overall land use plan, implementation schedule, and cost/financial aspects.
2 Site and Environmental Analyses. A description of the area in which development is planned, with emphasis on indigenous resources, services, and construction materials, as well as local constraints on development. Also, a preliminary environmental impact analysis of the agro-industrial complex, as well as identification of suggested environmental control methodology and criteria.
3 Industry and Agriculture. A description of the core elements of the complex, in this case the major industrial and agricultural facilities. Technical descriptions of each major facility as well as interrelationships between fertilizer manufacturing, supporting industries, agriculture, and food processing. Includes production schedules, facility phasing, major equipment requirements, and construction schedules. Summaries are also included in infrastructure and manpower requirements of each facility.
4 Energy, Water, and Waste Systems. Description of gas, power, water, and waste systems. Includes block flow diagrams, major equipment lists, and plot plans. Indicates facility phasing. Shows organization chart, and operating manpower for each system.
5 Communications and Transportation Systems. Technical descriptions of roads, airport, port, mail, and telecommunications systems. Same types of information and parallel organization to volume 4.
6 Community Development. Describes housing and community facilities, including land use plan. Discusses employment and derivation of total population. Also discusses community operating organization and means of coordinating with overall management plan.
7 Manpower Development Plan. Documents overall manpower requirements for construction and operations by number, skill levels, and expected source. Describes required recruiting and training facilities and programs.
8 Economics and Cost Analyses. A summary of all capital and operating cost information. Also, economic studies undertaken to determine the viability of various alternative development strategies are contained here. Finally, a financial plan for the agroindustrial complex is presented, including annual investments required and suggested financing arrangements.
9 Master Plan Implementation. This key volume contains the specific recommendations for master plan implementation. Included would be the recommended governmental organization for implementation, specific “next step” items such as construction support facilities and “first increment” projects, and a detailed overall schedule of implementation.

Coordinated Plan Preparation

Master plan preparation is based on the table of contents and the project schedule. Two major issues usually surface in the actual plan preparation: (1) the appropriate level of detail in describing plan elements and (2) coordination among ongoing planning functions.

Addressing the first of these areas, master plans are usually based on a “conceptual” level of engineering detail. For most major functional areas (e.g., the power or water systems), the following typical elements are prepared :

  • Major facilities layout drawings, or plot plans
  • Block process flow diagrams, or their equivalent
  • A general listing and description of major equipment items (e.g., 10-500 gpm, 50 ft. head centrifugal pumps)
  • Narrative description of the system, with emphasis on design criteria and mode of operation.

With respect to the above coordination question, an example may be useful. For the agro-industrial complex envisioned in this paper, a listing of “basic master plan numbers” is provided in table 4. The major function of this table is to provide, in one place, a real time listing of all major numbers used in the master plan.

Since table 4 contains the basis for most of the detailed planning, it should normally be controlled by the project manager or his designee. Thus, a technical group that wants to change a “basic number” must coordinate with the project manager, through modifications in table 4. This allows project management to:

  • Quickly visualize the effect of technical changes
  • See that other technical staff is alerted to “ripple” effects
  • Finally, to decide if the proposed change is “worth the effort”

Table 4. Basic Master Plan Numbers

Basic Master Plan Numbers

The further illustrate the use of table 4, the following sequence of events is shown as an example for the agro industrial complex:

  1. The client suggested that a doubling in acreage of Farm B be considered.
  2. A brief evaluation of this client proposal led to:
    1. Significant increases in water and fertilizer requirements
    2. Much more modest increases in solid wastes, power and port requirements, and manpower
    3. Based on the above, slight increases in the manpower training center, the community, and construction support facilities.
  3. The above changes were discussed with the client, along with a rough estimate of increased costs, and a client decision was made to double Farm B.
  4. The new basic master plan numbers were transmitted to all technical groups for use in future planning.

Master Plan Implementation

The master plan should be strongly implementationoriented. The report volumes (particularly volume 9) should identify specific actions which can move the total development forward. Some of the specific areas necessary to assist project implementation include the following:

  • Unless precluded by the client, considerable time should be spent in identifying the implementing agency or agencies for the planned development. Depending on the nature of the development, existing agencies or a new special-purpose agency could be suggested to direct project implementation.
  • Even before master plan completion, it is often important to identify construction support, or other early activities, for which implementation can begin. This may not only keep the project on the “critical path” but provide “real” feedback from the field on such matters as construction labor and materials availability.
  • An emphasis should be placed in the master plan on detailing “first increment” projects in stagewise planning procedures. For example, if a power generating capacity of 500 megawatts (MW) is planned, substantial effort should go into justifying and describing the first increment of, say, 100 MW so this first-stage implementation can begin. (The master planner is thus less interested in “defending” the 500-MW endpoint than the first increment 100-MW.)


Master planning in developing countries is a worthwhile challenging task for which significant management skills are required. Unlike certain types of projects which arc largely repetitive, each master plan is unique and should be approached as such. However, a body of general principles for undertaking such planning efforts are evolving. The purpose of this paper has been to document some of the more important principles which could be applied on a relatively common basis.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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