Article - What is Your Take on This: Throw Over the Fence Project Management


While project management has been almost fully embraced by the private sector in most of the developed (and certain parts of the developing) world, the government sector still remains a curious wonderland where large projects get initiated and "executed" without any professional involvement of project managers. And yes, I am omitting words like "planned", "monitored" and "controlled" on purpose!

I remember one interesting conversation that took place with an employee of a large government agency, whose management continued to claim that "project management was a waste of time" and that "in any case, we outsource the entire project to a construction company, so why should we bother?"

Me: So tell me, how do you run projects here?

E: Well, at some point of time someone up there (points to the ceiling) decides to build a new port facility ...

Me: And then?

E: The Steering Committee obtains the money based on some very arbitrary estimate and announces to all our departments that the project will be starting on January 1. The Real Estate department is the first on the scene since they have to acquire the land for the future development. They take care of that and pass the files to the Legal department ...

Me: And what happens then?

E: The head of the Legal department is very surprised to see these documents, but the representative of the Real Estate team exclaims, "Remember we had a discussion about this project a couple of months ago? Well, here you go! My job here is done". The head of the Legal team suddenly remembers the now-vague conversation that took place at the Steering Committee meeting, curses and assigns the case to one of his overworked lawyers.

Me: OK, but that is not the end of the story ...

E: Oh no, you ain't heard nothing yet! Begrudgingly the Legal team prepares all of the documents required and one day surprises the next victim - the Planning department. Keep in mind that by that time the historical Steering Committee meeting is three or four months behind us. So, the Planning department has already lost any recollection about that project.

Me: And how do they react to this?

E: Oh, they are not happy about it! But another interesting thing happens here that frequently goes unnoticed. After some investigative work the Planning team discovers that the initial Steering Committee's estimate of, say, $500 million was insufficient and the actual cost of the project should be around $1.2 billion ...

Me: And what do they do about that? Do they inform the Steering Committee?

E: Hell, no! First, they don't want to be the bearer of bad news and second, they are not going to be responsible for the delivery of the project. Only for the planning part ...

Me: Oh, that is very convenient!

E: (smiling) Absolutely! But there is more. Imagine that we are approximately two or three years into our "project". It has already been "planned" and passed on to our engineering and construction vendors. The construction of the terminal is nearing its end …

Me: (sensing a surprise) And?

E: At the very end of the project a representative of the Engineering department calls an IT guy and tells him, “Hey, Bob, you need to set up the IT infrastructure at the new terminal building. Would a couple of weeks suffice?” The IT person examines the building that has been planned without his input and replies, “Nope, you need to rebuild the server room first; it needs to be twice as large and requires special type of air conditioning!”

Here is my question for you: is it just my luck or do you see similar “throw-over-the-fence” project management at government organizations in your countries?

  1. Yes, absolutely! In my experience government projects are usually handled this way.
  2. Most of the government initiated projects are managed in this format, although there are some exceptions
  3. Very few of the government projects are managed in this manner

Please leave your comments below (A), (B) or (C)