Why are Government Organisations Often Poor at Project Delivery?
Why are government organisations (national, state, city, town and state-run enterprises) often poor at project delivery? Paul Netscher, a construction management consultant and writer with 30 years of construction management experience, writes about project delivery faults.
A project isn’t just the construction part, it’s the complete life-cycle, from project conception, through design, planning, construction, completion, including maintenance and operation of the finished facility. At all stages of the process, we see examples of spectacular failure, costing money, time and even lives. There are many reasons for project failure and these include:
1. Many politicians (elected officers) and government officials are driven by personal gain.This gain could be delivering the greatest number of votes, being involved with a prestigious project, and monetary gains.
Regrettably, often politicians accept bribes (donations!) from corrupt contractors, suppliers, landowners anda developers. It often results in the wrong project being built in the wrong place, incompetent contractors being selected, or inappropriate equipment and materials being used.
2. Often politicians are there for the short term, but projects and facilities will typically outlast their careers and even their lives. In many cases, the next generation has to live with their actions or lack of action. Upgrading roads and infrastructure to farming and mining communities has few immediate visible benefits but is often essential to the development of the country in the long term.
3. Some politicians don’t see the bigger picture.Indeed they are often only focused on their own needs, position, or the next election. A project typically consists of multiple parts. Building a new hospital could be great, but it is a failure if there isn’t money left to equip the hospital or indeed money for the doctors and nurses to operate the hospital.
Politicians have a knack for drawing lines on a map, acting on whims, or tossing new ideas (thought bubbles) into the arena, without adequately thinking through all the consequences of their actions.
4. Politicians often have a short tenure.Some might see this as a good thing – being able to change politicians regularly. It does mean that the voting public can dump politicians they don’t like, but it often means there is seldom consistent policy.
One politician who likes building roads is replaced by others that want railways, while some want conventional energy sources and others focus on renewables. It leaves projects in limbo, possibly after millions of dollars have already been spent.
5. Sometimes politicians are unduly influenced by those on the fringe or the noisiest objectors.No politician wants to be visibly and publicly ridiculed or embarrassed, so they’ll often take the action that results in the noisiest celebrations and the quietest protests – even if the noisy celebrations are of their own making and the quiet protests are because people have been cowered into submission.
6. Many politicians and officials are bad at explaining the benefits and necessity of some projects.Indeed, often necessary and beneficial projects end on the waste tip of abandoned good ideas because the voting public wasn’t properly informed.
7. Usually, politicians don’t like people that don’t agree with them.They are often advised by departments. Sometimes there are good people in the departments. Regrettably, politicians like to make changes – getting rid of those who worked for the previous leadership, who often have years of experience.
8. Sometimes politicians make their pet projects fit the available budget and a need. Often projects will exceed their budget, but they are made to fit – costs are ignored or deliberately understated. When the project costs exceed the budget, there is every chance the politician has moved on to another posting. There is no accountability, and they can always blame their successor or even a predecessor!
9. Politicians use other people’s money, and their projects impact the lives of others. Need I say more! Sometimes there is money, and a project is found to spend the money – even when that project isn’t a necessity or even a good project.
10. Many politicians are driven by ideology, political agendas and personal beliefs, and their projects are often an extension of this thinking, rather than being based on sound research and delivering the best long-term benefits to the people, region and country.
11. Most politicians aren’t project managersor engineers, so have little experience in delivering projects on time and within budget, from concept to completion. Consequently, they have a limited understanding of the processes, risks, costs and requirements of a successful project. They don’t understand the project lifecycle.
12. Many politicians like easy wins and hate hard decisions and tough choices. Fortunately, there are many successful government projects, and some elected officials who work for the good of the community, take on board the advice of experts and understand the concerns of stakeholders. There are a few that are prepared to serve the people, who put the public ahead of personal ambition.
The world has many projects that are white elephants, projects that have been ill-conceived, poorly planned and badly managed. Millions of dollars are wasted on inappropriate ideas, poor projects and ineptly executed projects.
Unfortunately, the next generation has to live with the consequences of these projects. Indeed we have to live with them! Whole communities, states and countries are hamstrung by these bad projects and the resulting debts.
Politicians must be accountable. It is time that elected officials looked beyond short-term gain, greed and petty politics, rather focusing on the long-term requirements of the community and country. Politicians need to take advice from honest project managers and not people and organisations that have vested interests in a particular project or outcome.
They need to carefully evaluate all projects to ensure that they are the best use of public money, delivering the greatest long-term benefits. They need to consider all the implications of their decisions and choices.
It is time for our politicians, elected officials and those in government to stand up and take pride in their accomplishments, to be accountable for their decisions (or lack of decisions), to build a place, a community and a country that future generations will be proud of.
Projects aren’t just random ideas or lines on paper; they aren’t political slogans or one-liners, they impact people and cost money. Projects require rational thought, proper planning, careful design, sound construction and expert delivery.
Even more important, the project process doesn’t stop there, the completed facility has to be managed, operated and maintained, ensuring that it continues to deliver benefits safely for many years to come.
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