A case for project management in municipalities

For those who know me, you will know that I bang the drum of project management (PM) in the municipal environment, and I try to bang this drum as loud as I can.

Time and time again I hear reports of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the local government environment, in which projects are not delivered within the tolerances required, and for which a range of problems are cited as the cause. In many cases there is nothing to show after considerable time and expense. Problems cited include lack of money, corruption, insufficient skills and lack of political focus. However, rarely, if ever, is project management cited as a cause.

PM is not limited to the usage of a planning tool, such as Microsoft Project, but covers the entire range of activities that collectively help to deliver the outcomes of projects, and to do this within a range of constraints and issued.

As a discipline, PM will work under all conditions.  It is a real-world, down-to-earth set of practices which are intended to deal with issues as they arise and to incorporate change management into the mix of responsibilities of a project manager.

To be effective, PM needs to be supported by a suitable set of information tools, since projects are too complex to be managed by hand, and whereas project planning tools help with the low-level elements of a project, it is high-level tools that are required when attempting to manage many projects at the same time within the various municipal departments.

The municipal environment is unique in the manner in which it conducts projects, and I have designed an extended life-cycle model that commences with community participation, and which then leads to the primary planning document, the IDP, and which only then leads onto the actual running of the projects themselves. Project management does not start when the project is started, but when the people express the needs for change in their environment – change which will provide an improved quality of life. Project management ends when the intended beneficiaries finally get the benefits they were promised.

A project manager in a municipality needs a wide range of skills, and must think in the large, rather than in the small. It is a difficult job for anyone to see the holistic picture of an entire municipality and this applies to both large and small municipalities. There are too many competing forces which influence decisions on projects, including spatial and sectoral priorities, access to funding, urgent short-term demands, capacity of the municipality, and ongoing work on existing projects.

The project manager is required to give substance and form to some of the key questions raised throughout the municipality such as: what do the people want? what projects should we run to make a difference? how will we pay for the projects? how can we involve the local business sector in our projects? are we achieving our goals of service delivery? are we spending the capital budgets we have been given? are projects starting efficiently or being delayed in administrative structures? how can we monitor our projects more effectively? how can we link our performance with district, provincial and national performance on projects into a unified performance model?

These are important questions given the large proportion of municipal funding which is paid for both capital and operational projects, and the project manager needs to ensure that every drop of this money flows into delivered outcomes and impacts.

A PM system to help the project managers and other officials within the municipal environment is required to enable communication with the stakeholders and communities; to support the complex needs to creating a balanced IDP; to support the procedural requirements for allocation of funding and awarding of contracts; to enable the collection and reporting of up to date information on progress at the project level; to allow for multiple projects to be run and monitored at the same time; and to provide useful information for status reporting and decision-making.

No municipality, no matter what its size, can do without such information support, and at present the majority of municipalities are making do without sufficient information, and without the systems integration required for a best-practice approach to project information management.

Roger Layton

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Nino's picture
Nino replied on

Hi Roger,

Let me help you bang this drum. When my director first suggested I attend a Project Management course, hosted by the DBSA, I was a bit sceptical and looking for any excuse not to do it. Well, 2 years later and I use the fundamentals on a weekly basis. I have applied it in almost every aspect of IT as well.

After doing the introductory course, I was so gripped and continued on to do the Advanced Project Management course.

So, what our municipality ended up doing was to send all line managers to attend a PM course and then the divisional managers went a step further to do the advanced course.

This proved to be very valuable for us. We have also appointed 2 qualified Project Managers and although they have their own portfolios, we find their input into our smaller divsional projects very valuable.

Project Management - Definately a MUST for every municipality...

Roger Layton's picture
Roger Layton replied on

Hi Nino,

Thanks for the comment.

I focused much of my work in PM on the PRINCE2 method, and I am a PRINCE2 Practitioner and until recently was a PRINCE2 Approved Training, but this has lapsed at present. PRINCE2 provides very good general principles, but largely covers only the actual project start, middle and end, and maages to do this in a generic way. PRINCE2 was developed specifically for the public service in the UK, and works very well with projects that are not only focussed on engineering and construction, but also on business analysis, system development, IT instructures, and many other municipal activities that fall within the non-infrastructure responsibilities.

However, my view is that project management in the municipal environment is not simply starting, running and completing projects, but has a far longer life cycle that concerns needs analysis, strategic planning (IDP creation), financial approval and controls, as well as considerable feedback on valid evidence on the status of project progress.

I have set up a course structure to address this for municipalities, which combines PRINCE2 with PMBOK and with programme management responsibilities, and which is applicable to all areas of governance and responsibility including Public Participation and Communications, IDP, Supply Chain, Project Management Units, as well as every departmental manager, who all have to run projects or being involved in their formulation, prioritisation resource planning, scheduling, monitoring and evaluation.