I can pick any one of the many projects the government plans to execute during the next five years. The core message in this submission would be the same. The objective is to sensitise the relevant authorities that for any project to succeed, holistic and comprehensive identification and assessment of success factors must be conducted.
It is also critical to identify and engage all the relevant stakeholders including those that may be very critical to the project early during the planning phase for inclusion of their input before the project is given the ‘green light’ to go ahead. I would like to mention five most critical success factors that I believe should be considered and quantified for each one of these projects:
The market for the product(s)
The total cost of production including cost of getting the product to the market
The profit margin and growth potential
The available technology and skills to support the technology and the business
This assumes that there is a dedicated coordinating team that does the detailed planning and manages the whole process on behalf of the project owner (government in this case). The planning phase is the most critical aspect of any project. It is during this phase that all the success factors are identified, assessed critically and quantified comprehensibly. It is a phase that required a small dedicated team with diverse skills, generous time frame as well as a generous working budget for it to succeed.
It is during this phase that all unnecessary costs and risks will be identified. Doing this phase thoroughly will not only reduce the total cost of the project but will also reduce the risks of cost and schedule overruns as well as the risks of project failure.
It is during this phase that detailed and wide ranging benchmarking exercises are carried out to fully appreciate the market conditions as well as the technological limitations and opportunities. It is also a must to engage a ‘gloves off’ external team of experts to audit this work on behalf of the project owner before the planning phase is concluded. This ‘gloves off’ team of experts must be used during the course of the project at given intervals to ensure that no ‘cutting of corners’ and underhand tactics are allowed.
This article is motivated by the number of government projects that have failed over the years at great expense to the nation. I believe these phenomenal failures were due to poor planning and failure to comprehensively and holistically identify and quantify the five critical success factors stated above. The project gurus say, ‘failure to plan is planning to fail’. This is true. Botswana government project failure rate is clearly a result of poor or lack of project planning. We all need to contribute in our small way towards reversing this embarrassing national trend. This submission will hopefully reach some key people in the establishment, who hopefully will take note
It is needless to mention the failed projects as most of them are in the public domain but for perspective I would like to mention some before I turn to the leather project example:
Gaborone, Lobatse, Francistown and Serowe stadia!!
Tonota/Francistown road and many more!!
I have worked for Debswana for many years and witnessed first hand many large and small projects over the years, none of which have failed, despite the many challenges. The recent relocation of Diamond Trading Company from London to Gaborone was a mammoth project by any standard, with its many challenges was a resounding success, done on time, within budget and meeting the business objectives of the project owners.
The government must draw some lessons from many projects done by Debswana and De beers in Botswana with impressive success rates. These projects were successful not only with respect to budget, safety and schedule but also importantly in meeting the key business objectives defined by the project owners (the share holders).
I choose to talk about the Lobatse leather park project because it has been in the news during the past few weeks. The Minister of Trade describes this project as one of the flagship projects the government is undertaking. He also enthusiastically stated that the project will create over 5 000 jobs.
The president has also been in the news about a number of planned mega government projects that will create significant employment. The president also said that they will be creating Special Implementation Teams to make these projects successful.
We should all be excited about these developments. The intentions are good and if these projects are successful they will indeed move Botswana forward. We want these projects to succeed, but have we planted the right seeds for success? Have we carried out any comprehensive risks identification and mitigation programme?
Have a project manager and his planning team been appointed to carry out detailed planning for each project? How about the critical success factors I have mentioned above? Have they been identified and comprehensibly quantified. If all these have not been done we have identified a number of seemingly very good ploughing fields, with lots of potential, but we have not identified the right fertilisers and right seeds. We have not assessed the field to identify and remove stumps and see that there are no underlying rocks in the field. We do not know whether the water for the field is available, is it rain fed or is it irrigated farming?
We have tractors and world class farmers to plough the fields and plough they will, but because the stumps and rocks are many, they will have lots of breakdowns and delays so the world class farmers will not finish ploughing on time and on budget. The harvesters will toil and sweat in the fields but the harvest will not be enough to fill the barns built at huge cost in anticipation of a bumper harvest. Hunger will persist, despite the good intentions and lots of money having been spent on the fields and accessories.
The special implementation teams, the president talks about come right at the end to implement and hand over to the production team. If the planning has not been done accordingly, the implementation team will implement but will the project succeed and achieve its objectives? Will this poorly planned project with the best implementation team in the world be completed on time and on cost and will the projects meet the intended business objectives? I do not think so. In all cases the implementation and production teams are blamed for the failures that unfortunately originated from poor planning and poor risk management by the project owners.
Let me briefly show and clarify why the five success factors I have mentioned are key to the success of any project. I want to emphasise that these factors will come from the planning and risk management done during the initial phase of any project. They cannot be done during implementation or any other phase of the project.
The market is obviously very important. Where is the market? How big is the market? Is this a growing market? Who are your competitors? What are their competitive advantages? What are your own competitive advantages? How do you get your product to the market?
The production costs are not only important in terms of profitability but also in terms of competition. It is important that all costs are included, including hidden costs (contingencies). Sometimes because of external pressure to get the project approved some costs are left out, only to harm the project during execution and in operations, in some cases making the project a total failure.
The project must be able to achieve a healthy profit margin and there must be clear growth potential for sustainability. So a realistic assessment of this is important to determine viability of the project.
The technology to be employed must be understood including its availability. This is however, the easy part. The more challenging part is the ability to operate and maintain the technology…technology support. Do you have skills to operate and maintain this technology? Do you have skills to assess and adopt alternative technology when the need arises? This is where most projects fail. Here you have to identify your own people and give them the requisite training and skills for them to own the maintenance and operation of the plant or business.
The sustainability element is linked to identification of skills and training a critical mass to operate and maintain as well as to grow the business. Technology is driven by people who have ownership of that technology. The ownership comes from thorough training by the technology owners.
What has failed most government projects is lack of the realisation that the project is not completed at the end of the implementation phase. The implementation is the means to an end. The end is the productive life after implementation. This is why training of locals is very important.
Bringing in expatriates without a critical mass of local expertise is not the solution as it is not sustainable and in many cases it is counter productive as it is seen by locals as disadvantaging them, making some bitter and unproductive as well as creating an unhealthy labour relations environment.
I now want to turn to the Lobatse leather park project to buttress my submission. According to government sources, government will develop a leather park industry in Lobatse by 2015/6 that will churn out over 5000 jobs. LEA did a study to justify this project, but the objectives of the study were only internally focused.
The study was to determine the volumes and values of leather products in Botswana from 2007 to 2009 and challenges faced by the local leather industry during this period. They noted that the leather industries in Botswana have all collapsed and sited reason for failure as the omission to include an effluent treatment plant in the designs because of costs. They also did a benchmarking visit to Namibia and have engaged the Central Leather Research Institute of India as their technical partner.
Just a cursory look at the LEA study which seems to have been used to justify the Lobatse Leather Park project, I honestly believe we have only identified the field and we just want to plant without having adequately assessed this field. This is a recipe for failure. I would not base such a project on the LEA report. A more comprehensive study should have been done and should have at least looked and quantified all the five factors stated at the beginning of this submission. The leather industry is a multi billion dollar business.
According to the Council for Leather Export of India, where LEA’s international technical partner comes from, the world’s leather import stood at US$22.2 billion in 2011 and was growing at a cumulative annual rate of 7.9 percent. At this rate it should now be standing at US$27.8 billion. India, contributed about 5 percent of the world’s import. The Indian leather industry employed 2.5 million people in 2008/9 and planned to invest to increase export and increase employment by another million by 2014. Look at these numbers!
India is poised to make itself a global destination for sourcing leather products and accessories. State of the art production units and design studios are in place to produce high quality leather products. I wonder why LEA chose to benchmark with Namibia instead of India where they sourced their technical partner. I also wonder why LEA chose a research institution as its technical partner, not an operating industry.
An industry player would know all the ins and outs of the business from a practical not a theoretical point of view. It is this partner than we can benchmark with, who can provide the requisite training for our people from both technical and business perspectives. This industry will require engineers, chemists, technicians, artisans, designers, accountants, HR practitioners, ICT specialists, managers etc. It is this partner that we can have exchange programmes to train our people inn these fields.
With the number of cattle, goats, sheep, wildlife, Botswana should be aiming for a world class leather industry that will employ a lot more than 5 000 people and bring much needed foreign investment and government revenues. But it will not just happen because we say so, it will happen because we have invested in a good plan and we have invested in our human capital.
The difference between government and Debswana project success stories is mainly in the planning and execution management. Also political expediency and interference is a disabling factor in government projects. The government must ensure that they employ experts, not their friends, experts who will advise without fear or favour, experts who will execute professionally without fear or favour. Without such government will continue to spend money on unsuccessful projects.
For the past 10 years or more government has spent inordinate amount of taxpayer’s money on failed projects. The question is what has government done differently (not special implementation teams) this time that will result in the planned projects being delivered successfully and meeting all the intended objectives? The definition of insanity according to Einstein is when you do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
I hope and pray that we can as a nation use, all our limited human capital and finances to identify the real challenges that contributed to the failure of our projects in the past and do something even if it means delaying the planned projects until we fully understand all the success requirements that will take our country forward. God bless Botswana and merry Christmas to all our beloved people!
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.