Project Management Culture and Performance

Speech delivered to Karachi Chapter of Project Management Institute on November 26, 2016

Honorable President of the Project Management Institute and distinguished guests,

I am honored to have been invited to this session on project management culture as the Chief Guest. I have listened with great interest to the proceedings this morning, to the welcome speech, the speech on being an influencer, the speech on embracing leadership and to the panel discussion on changing the world as a project manager.

For my part, I should tell you that I am not an expert on project management. My own field of expertise is economics. However, I served for 32 years in an international organization, the World Bank, whose mandate was to design and finance development projects around the world. So, even though I was working as an economist and mostly dealing with Central Banks and Ministries of Planning and Finance, I gathered a lot of information about project management cultures around the world simply by working with people who designed and managed projects in many different sectors in many different countries.

There is as much diversity in project management cultures around the world as there are cultures. But some patterns do emerge. My first experience at the World Bank was in the Republic of Korea in the latter half of the 1980s. I was greatly impressed by the fact that my project colleagues could rely completely on Korean government officials to carry out projects financed by the World Bank on time and under cost. They were so reliable that project negotiations with Korean counterparts were often conducted by phone and fax. There was not much need to visit Korea to supervise projects or deal with implementation problems. World Bank project staff loved to work on Korea because their projects succeeded very frequently in meeting cost and impact objectives.

Many years later I had the chance to work on China and Vietnam. These two countries were also characterized, at least in the last two decades, by a disciplined project management culture reminiscent of Korea.

I have also had experience with weak project management cultures. One example is the Philippines where I worked in the early nineties and Egypt where I worked ten years later. The project management cultures here were very different from Korea. World Bank projects took longer to design and negotiate and implementation frequently took longer than anticipated in the project documents. World Bank staff had to visit much more often to deal with project implementation problems. They still enjoyed working on these countries though but this was because of the food and the people and tourism options.

One broad conclusion that I reached was that the countries with better project management cultures were also the ones with faster economic growth and development. I don't know which caused which but the correlation seemed quite obvious. The Korea and Philippines examples illustrate this.

Let me now turn to the case of Pakistan. Once again, I am not an expert and have not been following project management issues in Pakistan very closely. But I did read up on some research while preparing for this meeting. In particular, I have consulted some research on project management maturity in Pakistan, conducted by faculty members of the IBA, the institute that I now head.

This research, based on an empirical study of 123 Pakistani organizations, revealed some very interesting findings. First, it found that the average level of project management maturity among Pakistani firms is low. Second, it found that only 24% of projects carried out could be termed successful in the sense of delivering within budget and schedule. Third, it showed that project performance, or the probability of success, was strongly correlated with the level of project management maturity.

I am not surprised by these results. I have worked in many countries with poor management cultures and Pakistan strikes me as being in this category. And what I observed as a broad correlation among country level economic performance and project management culture is replicated by my colleagues at the firm level as a correlation between firm level success and project management culture.

The research done by my colleagues at the IBA contains some useful tips to improve project management in Pakistan. The research suggests that three aspects are positively correlated with good project performance: certification and training in project management; use of project management software; and use of formal project management units to run the projects.

At present, only 22% of project management staff in Pakistani are formally trained or certified in project management. This proportion needs to rise. The global average is 80%.

About 60% of firms use some sort of project management software. This proportion needs to rise a bit as the global average is 77%.

Only 24% of firms have established a formal PMO. This too needs to rise towards the global average of 80%.

These findings are of special importance in the context of CPEC. Pakistan is about to embark on a major investment program in energy and infrastructure projects with China. How much we benefit from this program will depend at least in part on whether our firms can win project management contracts. And whether they can execute the projects successfully. To do this they must invest in training and software and carry out management innovations.

Let me stop here. If you have any questions on the research conducted by IBA faculty, please feel free to ask as my colleagues are attending today's meeting. I would also be happy to take any questions on the global comparisons I had made.