The implementation of major works projects in Iraq has historically suffered from deficiencies in scheduling, budgeting, and monitoring and controlling. As such, service delivery is negatively affected as projects are delayed, run over budget, or sometimes canceled altogether. With the support of USAID-Tarabot and the Council of Ministers’ Secretariat (COMSEC), many government entities have worked to address these shortcomings by embracing modern project management tools.
Now, Iraqis are enjoying more hours of electricity and more clean water. They are able to get to where they need to go more quickly, thanks to new roads. As part of the US$357 billion National Development Plan, the Government of Iraq is taking on over 5,800 infrastructure projects. With the use of internationally recognized project management processes developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the government is able to better ensure that its power plants, schools, roads, and dams are completed on time and on budget. This is an encouraging sign for the development of Iraq and the effectiveness of its government in providing necessary services.
There are several major areas of focus to the project management reforms promoted by USAID-Tarabot. First, feasibility studies, wherein high-level estimated costs required for a project and its projected value are determined, and estimation techniques by which project schedules and cost estimates are developed. This process outlines threats to a project, along with the resources required to carry it through successful completion. Project performance during the execution stage is measured through Earned Value Management, which also helps project managers anticipate dates for project completion based on performance indexes, and enables them to make necessary adjustments take corrective action as necessary to keep the project on track. Another tool promoted by USAID-Tarabot that has greatly improved the capacity of its partners is MS Project. This integrated software package is a key pillar in any internationally-recognized project management system, dovetailing with PMI processes, and providing project managers with a set of straightforward automated tools to assign resources, manage budgets, and track progress on projects. It sets a foundation from which the breakdown of project work and activities can be undertaken in a comprehensive and precise manner.
By assisting its Government of Iraq partners to pilot PMI process on over 50 projects, Tarabot has set a strong precedent for their successful application. As a result, the use of these tools is being institutionalized and applied to an ever growing number of projects, and a sizeable group of engineers are honing their skills for future use.
In Wasit, USAID-Tarabot assisted the Governorate Office to apply PMI processes throughout the lifecycle of a project for the construction of a water treatment plant. The plant’s capacity to provide clean water will be critical to servicing a population that is expected to double in the next ten years, and which has been strained by IDP flows. Scoping techniques and a work breakdown structure were used in the planning phase instead of the traditional progress reports. MS Project and earned value management techniques were used to measure project performance during the execution stage, helping to anticipate dates for project completion based on performance indices, and keeping the project on track.
Having witnessed the effectiveness of PMI processes, the Governorate of Wasit has selected over 30 projects for the application of PMI processes, and the Governor has pledged to expand this number significantly. These projects address educational, health, transportation, and sanitation infrastructure. Broad institutionalization of PMI processes is the ultimate goal for all pilot projects undertaken by USAID-Tarabot’s governmental partners. By providing hands-on support in the application of the PMI system, USAID-Tarabot deepened the knowledge of participating engineers, and established a successful precedent for the wider application of these tools throughout the Government of Iraq.
In Babil, governorate engineers originally expected that a new water waste treatment plant would need 75 days to become operational and be connected to the existing water treatment network. During this time, sewage discharge would pass through unfiltered into the Euphrates River. Employing PMI processes for scheduling and estimation, the governorate was able to reduce the costs, time, and resources needed to address major deficiencies in the project’s plan and to complete it in nearly half the expected time. Engineers were able to reduce the gap in the time of unfiltered sewage by 30 days. Approximately five million gallons of water pass through the water plant each day, positively impacting the health of Babil residents and neighboring provinces while contributing to responsible and sustainable environmental practices.
The Governorate of Najaf mandated the use of MS Project for 36 resident engineers’ offices employing over 340 engineers. Since this important reform, on-the-ground improvements in project management quickly became apparent. The governorate decided to pilot the application of MS Project and PMI processes on the Al-Askareen Tunnel Project–a main road linking major hubs in the provinces of Najaf, Karbala, and Diwaniyah–valued at US$11.2 million. Despite being one of the largest and most strategically important projects in the province, the project had suffered from delays, cost overages, and a lack of coordination between engineers and the implementing firm. Using MS Project, a report was generated that showed significant project delays, requiring immediate corrective action for its timely completion. The contracting firm responded by significantly increasing the size of key worker groups in order to rectify the lag in implementation, and In October 2013 the project was completed
The Ministry of Electricity’s Al-Najibiyah power station in Basrah is projected to provide an extra 500kw of power to Iraq to close the gap between Iraq’s supply and demand; however, even small shifts in market prices for materials, labor timelines, and other unexpected setbacks can have detrimental effects on the implementation of a complex project valued at US$271 million. With the intervention of Tarabot realistic timelines for project activities and the training of Ministry of Electricity engineers on standard monitoring and control systems, the ministry was able to manage project variance, respond to material and labor change requests, and project performance. This will help enable the on schedule completion of the project which will provide Iraqis in Basrah and on the national grid with more hours of electricity per day.
Tarabot assisted the Ministry of Construction and Housing to pilot PMI processes on a project for the reconstruction of the Sayyidet Al-Najat church in Baghdad, which suffered a terrorist attack in 2010. Like other faiths in Iraq dislocated by violence, Christians were losing the belief they could safely worship again. The ministry pledged to rebuild the church and began its work in 2012; however, the project suffered from a six-month delay in scheduling. Tarabot helped the contractor to identify problems in implementation, and ministry engineers were able to speed up the completion of the renovation by using MS Project to develop new timelines and reallocate resources. Now, a parish of over 300 is able to workshop again in a fully rehabilitated church. The successful completion of this project set a precedent for the value of MS Project, which resulted in an official order from the minister for the program to be applied across the ministry’s capital investment portfolio.
With Tarabot’s assistance, engineers from the ministry went on to apply their new skills on a project for the construction of a laboratory in Baghdad, budgeted at $15 million, which will conduct quality testing for construction materials. Tarabot assisted in developing the project’s work breakdown structure, estimating costs and timelines, tracking project progress based on time and budget indicators, and applying MS Project for scheduling. Through hands-on application alongside Tarabot advisors, ministry engineers were able to translate their knowledge into practice.
Promoting professional certification and structural reforms
USAID-Tarabot has also supported government engineers in their pursuit of certification as Project Management Professionals (PMPs). The rigorous study and skill set required to achieve this certification makes PMP-certified candidates highly valuable in the public and private sectors. Many Government of Iraq entities have also embraced PMI systems through the establishment of project management offices to oversee capital investment projects and ensure their rapid and cost-effective implementation with up-to-date methodologies, functions, and organizational structures.
COMSEC has taken an active role in promoting project management reforms. In coordination with Tarabot, it sponsored a national project management conference in March 2014. The conference resulted in a list of recommendations issued to the Government of Iraq by COMSEC with the goal of broadening and improving adoption of PMI processes, and encouraging PMP certification and PMO establishment. In September 2014, COMSEC co-hosted a forum with Tarabot to bring together project managers and engineers from a range of government entities to discuss how to improve the functionality of PMOs, and the oversight of project implementation. Over 50 ministerial and governorate representatives shared their successes and challenges, and produced a list of recommendations. By supporting COMSEC to take oversight of this initiative, Tarabot continues to ensure its sustainability.
With the growing embrace of a wide range of government partners, from COMSEC to ministries and governorate offices, the reforms promoted and supported through this large initiative are yielding real impact. Our partners recognize the great value of the skills they have learned, having seen it themselves, on their own projects. They are eager to expand the usage to other projects, with governors making declarations calling for universal application. Tarabot leaves a legacy of concrete improvement to services, and deep institutional reform that will continue to benefit the Iraqi people for years to come.