PMI PM Network (Apr 2008) : The Power to Transform

Project management is helping Bangladesh change its future.

by S.K. Khor, PMP

PMNetwork_April2008_BangladeshPM_ReviseMarch

Though right next door to the emerging economic force of India, Bangladesh remains one of the poorest countries in the world. But some residents are looking to project management to help take the country to the next level. On recent visit to Dhaka, the country’s capital, I have noticed that Project management in Bangladesh is quite unique, as most projects are largely dependent on the availability of financing. The completion date is secondary and could be deferred based on the availability of funds. The environment has indirectly affected the thinking of many managers handling projects and some of them believe it is all right to shift target dates and derail the entire schedule.

And the perception of the project manager role in Bangladesh is often different than what’s found in more established markets.

“When I worked as a project manager outside of Bangladesh, I had to assume all responsibilities for project activities and was accountable on the success or failure of the project,” says Razif Yahya, PMP, Assistant General Manager at mobile communications company Aktel.

But in Bangladesh, “many of the critical decisions are left to higher management or, in some cases, the project sponsors,” he explains. “It may be a few weeks, if not months, before they respond, but this duration is typically not factored in any project schedule or cannot be factored in due to political reasons. This, in a way, has created a ‘flexible dateline’ culture, which is against A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).”

Project managers also have to oversee operational matters, Mr. Yahya says, which leads to “confusion of roles and responsibilities” and adds to the schedule overruns.

Force of Nature

Along with all the other scheduling risks, project managers in Bangladesh must contend with civil unrest, curfews and environmental disasters, Mr. Yahya adds.

“It will rain continuously for three months usually in June to August,” he says. “In planning long-duration projects, this has to be taken into account as risk. Following that, we have to prepare for the event of cyclone attacks or flood. This will definitely impact the project scope, cost and time.”

It’s not uncommon for these factors to delay a pilot project, which is then relaunched—stuck in “forever pilot” mode, he says.

Mr. Yahya says it’s important to have trained professionals whose judgments stakeholders or sponsors will trust. Once that faith is gained, project managers will be empowered.

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[bio] S.K. Khor, PMP, is founder of Asia ICT Project Management Sdn. Bhd, Selangor, Malaysia. He also is regional chair—Asia Pacific of the PMI Information Technology and Telecom Specific Interest Group.

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Shorter version of this paper will be published in the 2008 Edition of PMI’s PM Network monthly Magazine.

Project Management Landscape in Bangladesh – Issues, Challenges and Opportunities

Key words :  Bangladesh, highly populated , high illiteracy rate , devastating natural disasters , political instability, Flexible Dateline, Forever Pilot, High Impact  paradigm shift project management Effort , Formation of PMI Bangladesh Chapter

After I penned down an article about Project Management challenges in Pakistan, PMI PM Network Contributing Editor for the Asia Pacific region, Mr. SK Khor, PMP® had given a few opportunities to deliver project management training and seminars in the neighboring country, i.e. Bangladesh.

Bangladesh: home to around 140 million people, with rampant — but decreasing — illiteracy rate, and rapid development. Despite being prone to devastating natural disasters, the most recent being the Cyclone Sidr in November 2007, and regular intervals of political instability with outbreaks of manifestations and public protests in the streets, this third-world country is certainly well-known for its exported workers.

The opportunity to collaborate with various groups of people in Bangladesh who were committed on improving the way projects have been initiated, planned, and managed presented itself to Mr. SK when he came to Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a short visit. Among these personnel include USA-trained Bangladeshi and expatriates such as Mr. Mikail Islam, Acting Executive Director from Chittagong Skills Development Centre (CSDC,  www.csdc.com.bd) which is the first industry-led, non-profit skills training centre in Bangladesh. Ms Jenny Yang, representative from GSM Association (www.gsmworld.com) , Mr. Razif Yahya, PMP®, Assistance General Manager from Telekom Malaysia’s subsidiary Aktel and also Chairman of ICT Working Group for CSDC.

SK: Can you tell me the general understanding on the term of Project Management in Bangladesh?

Mr. Mikail from CSDC: In my observation, in general the project management in Bangladesh is quite unique as most projects are largely dependent on the availability of financing and completion date is secondary and could be deferred based on the availability of funds. It could be seen that some large scale constructions stopped in the middle of the projects due to budget constrain are rampant.

This environment has indirectly affected the thinking of many managers handling projects that it is alright to shift target dates and derailed the entire schedule. No accountability on the impact of delays and the final cost of the project. Hence this became a trend on its own.

In the Universities, Project Management is thought as a subject only. The emphasis on post graduate program on Project Management and PMP is very new in Bangladesh.

SK: What is the perception of a Project Manager role in Bangladesh?  How is this different or similar to what we usually seen outside of Bangladesh?

Mr. Razif, a certified PMP from Malaysia: When I worked as a Project Manager outside of Bangladesh, I have to assume all responsibilities project activities and accountable on the success or failure of the project. In Bangladesh, many of the critical decisions are left to Higher Management or in some cases the project sponsors. It maybe a few weeks if not months but this duration is typically not factored in any project schedule or can not be factored in due to political reason. This in a way has created a ‘flexible dateline’ culture which is against the PMBoK. In additional to this, the managers handling the project will also have to oversees operational matters which lead to confusion of roles and responsibilities and hence caused project schedule overrun.

It is important to have trained professionals whom Stakeholders or Sponsors have confidence in their judgments. With this, proper empowerment could be made to this Project Managers as it is important for successful delivery of projects based on its scope, cost and schedule. It is different in most developed countries and the west where Project Management is entrusted to professionals whose track records or credentials are benchmarked to internationally recognized bodies.

SK: What was different about your encounters here compared to projects outside of Bangladesh?

Mr Razif: In my personal experience, in most other encounters, the environment is quite controlled as schedule risks could arise from Government interference or civil unrest (in Guinea and Ghana) or curfews (in Sri Lanka) however in Bangladesh it has civil unrest, curfews and also environmental disasters. It will rain continuously for 3 months usually in June to August. In planning long duration projects this has to be taken into account as risk. Following that we have to prepare in the event of Cyclone attacks or flood. This will definitely impact the project scope, cost and time.

A Pilot Project which can not be completed on time due to above reasons is not uncommon to re-launched which lead me to coin a term called ‘Forever Pilot’.

SK: What were the project team related challenges and how did you resolve them?

Mr Razif: I had a young team mostly between age group 20 to 30 yrs old. Although dynamic and vibrant being young, they needed a lot of coaching and guidance in Project Management. Through mutual respect and a lot of patience from both sides, finally we managed to be at performing stage quite early in the execution phase which lead to significant productivity improvement and shorten the time-to-market.

The other challenge was inaccurate reporting and accountability issues. We managed to overcome this by having a Project Management Office whose major part of the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is to keep tab of project progress and network performance. All information was presented for discussion validated before report in the weekly internal project meeting attended by all project managers. Issues were debated and rationalized in that meeting and major changes or new direction were decided in this meeting as well.

SK: What does having a PMP Title after your name means to the job market in Bangladesh?

Mr Razif: I am so proud with this prestige title as it definitely help me to perform my job more effectively. It reminded me of the rigorous study which I have made to earn the certification and also to be a member of PMI, an esteemed organization regarded highly internationally. It also reminds me of the ethics and professionalism that this title came with. I am proud of my personal decision to embark into  the journey as a Certified Project Manager and I definitely encourage more Bangladeshi to do so.

SK: What were your efforts in promoting Project Management?

Ms Jenny Yang and Mr. Mikail Islam: GSM Association and Chittagong Skills Development Centre (CSDC) worked hand-in-hand to promote Project Management through organizing Project Management classes and awareness talk. So far three classes have been conducted and benefited 55 managers in 2007. According to Ms. Jenny Yang , representative from GSM Association which is a global trade association representing over 700 GSM mobile phone operators across 218 countries of the world.

We had our First locally made PMP® on the 18th Dec 07 last year.

I am grateful to have a few dedicated volunteers who share the same love and affection on this subject and had organized a few free seminars to professionals and executives to promote Project Management. We initiated registrations of new PMI members so as to have enough quorums to start the PMI Bangladesh Chapter! On 6 Jan 2008, we had 23 PMI Members already and I am confident we will have more than 30 by end of Jan 2008. I am very happy to see their enthusiasm in propagating professionalism in Project Management.

SK: What is in your wish list to see Project Management practices in Bangladesh, short term (6 to 12 months), mid tem (1-2 years) and long term (2 years or above)?

The three individuals I interviewed share their same vision and mission.

We wish to see Project Management practices to:
(6 to 12 months).. to continue to roll and attract more interest not only in Telco but to other industries eg. Construction and Pipe and Gas etc and we are working hard to have the our 1st convention in Project Management in the history of Bangladesh this year 2008.

(1-2 years).. to successfully instill professionalism in project management and positively affect the professionals and the society.

(2 years and above).. to have better coverage and have PMI Chapters in Regions: Chittagong, Khulna, Sylhet and Rajshahi.

PMI in any Chapter is made up of like minded people. The measure of success of formation PMI Bangladesh Chapter and to sustain it far into the future is gauged by the number of lives we affect positively through instill professionalism in the workplace.
We know this is only the beginning and there are many more steps to go. As for now, I am liaising closely with Mr SK Khor, PMP®, Chairperson for Asia Pacific Region, PMI IT and Telecom Specific Interest Group and Contributing Editor of PMI PM Network for any assistance or guidance for the establishment of this chapter and for promoting activity in Bangladesh.

However, we need help and welcome suggestion, input and visits/ volunteers within and outside of Bangladesh to bring in value of PM in all areas (Telco, military, economics, social economics, financial etc.) to transform one of the poorest countries in the world to the next level. So, please help us to spread the words, let us CONNECT  Bangladesh to the rest of worlds through Project Management!