InEight Global Capital Projects Outlook 2021: Optimism and Digitization

Not enough project managers

Michael Young
May 6, 2011

During the GFC, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced funding for 35,000 projects as part of the budget and various economic stimulus packages. Now, resources projects supported by supplementary infrastructure projects are dominating domestic investment. While this seems good on the surface, there is evidence that there simply aren’t enough project managers available to deliver the outcomes so desperately needed by the community.

The 35,000 projects range across four broad areas: infrastructure, defence, information technology and the environment. Defence initiatives include upgrading equipment, facilities and weaponry as well as improvements to staff healthcare and remuneration and security infrastructure. IT projects cover implementing the recommendations of the Gershon Review of IT in Government, and the National Broadband Network rollout. An important and significant environmental project is the proposed carbon tax scheme.

As someone who has been in the government project management game a long time, I am somewhat pessimistic about the Government’s chances of success in its endeavours. Given that many of these projects are tied up in the Government’s solution to the global financial crisis, the projects will be high profile and there will be enormous expectations of success from the Government, the media and the general population.

Critics may question the reasoning or motives behind this massive spending commitment, however a greater question looms as to the capacity of government agencies to plan and manage the projects and deliver these expected outcomes. Projects don’t just happen; they need skilled project managers to plan and execute them and manage the physical, financial and human resources to deliver what’s required on time and within budget.

So where will these project managers come from? Let’s look at some statistics. The two prime industry associations for project management are the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) and the Project Management Institute (PMI). Between them, they have 13,000 members, which is purported to be around half the number of project managers in the country. A simple calculation shows that this represents 0.74 of a project manager for each of the 35,000 projects. This, of course, assumes there are no other government projects in train and that there is no competition from projects in the private sector or from overseas.

Since the Gershon Review, government agencies are on a mission to rid themselves of their reliance on contractors with many actively pursuing the 50 percent target, yet very few agencies have found permanent staff to replace them.

According to an AIPM study, Federal Government and defence project managers are some of the lowest paid in the country. Their salary is almost $17,000 below market average. Given this, how does the Government expect to attract project managers to its cause?

I’m sceptical about the Government’s capability. By their nature, some of these projects will be long and complex, tying up project management resources for months, even years. The Government will need to rely on a sound project management workforce to ensure continuity of quality and consistency of delivery.

Of course, not all the projects will need to be delivered at once, which means that project managers could potentially be involved in a number of projects over time. This will require accurate scheduling and tight management of resources to ensure that all the projects receive appropriate attention. The question is, is this a realistic expectation?

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Michael Young
Michael Young is the managing director of Transformed, a registered training organisation and specialist project, program and portfolio management firm that works with private sector and government organisations.
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