Steven had the honor to be invited to provide a keynote for the Rwanda Organization for Professional Management Consultants:
In the Autumn 2020 Performance Xpress, published by the International Society for Performance Improvement, we published a piece giving warning about the dangers of too narrow a view in working toward sectoral reform. If you are interested to read the full article the issue is linked here.
A couple of extracts are below:
Some years ago, we were asked by an international agency to spend some weeks in Central Asia, specifically Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. We were tasked to look at several different programs there and to determine whether or not the donor agency we were working for might invest more money to improve its programming…
We were asked to look at a wide variety of projects including health and business development programmes. A particularly complex program involved a cluster of different agricultural projects in the Fergana Valley in Kyrgyzstan. The reports on these activities were glowing with success. All indicators had been surpassed…
The economics of the area was mainly subsistence farming among small-holders. The agencies had come in with the objective of increasing crop yields mainly for the existing crop selection – fruit, vegetables, cotton and different types of grains. This meant the introduction of fertilizers, the use of upgraded machinery and other improved input to increase the yield. Aid agencies were involved but obviously fertilizer companies were also keen to subsidize the market in order to grow it. It was quite an ambitious project. They began to organize the farmers by creating a kind of farmers’ union – the Association of Agribusinessmen of Kyrgyzstan – for the subsistence farmers who depended on selling their produce in local markets. An early focus was on increasing tomato production. Over a short period of just a few years the yields increased greatly. The project’s indicators for increased use of inputs and increased yields at harvest were surpassed wildly.
However, unexpectedly to many, this was a disaster. Other government projects in the sector and other programs in the region, supported by international aid donors, were to focus in parallel on expanding export markets for agriculture including tomatoes. This effort had been stillborn due to various political and technical factors. Thus the explosion of tomato yield created a large surplus on the internal and regional markets. There was no scheme to export tomatoes. Prices were crushed because there was now a far greater supply than was needed for the local population of a quickly perishable fruit…
Perspective is important. If you look at something very close up with narrow indicators it can give you a very different result, compared to considering the broader (complex) picture. Surely, designing and managing systemically is what you have to do when you are working to support reforms for upgrading an economy or transitioning citizen services nationwide; that is, having an impact on peoples’ lives. It is difficult to achieve the right outcome when people do not get rewarded for considering that what they do must be broadly sustainable or for taking them integrated, complex view. Incentives for action must interlink across plans and projects…
Kyrgyzstan was a dramatic example of the missteps that happen all the time on different scales. The weaknesses affected the lives of tens of thousands of people because no one sat down and had the meeting that said ‘What is going to happen if you are successful with your project? How will it impact on us?’ No one ever asked those essential questions in the Fergana Valley.
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Mari Novak and I were pleased to be invited to submit a chapter for this newly published text. We chose a case from a project in North Cyprus a few years ago.
The training and consultation effort, Performance Driven Project Management for the Turkish Cypriot community in Northern Cyprus, was funded because implementation of project plans was not satisfactory. The community was faced with considerable challenge. Non-performance was an issue for all stakeholders; directly affecting incomes, access, quality of life. Over 9-months the result was upgraded manager/consultant project management skills. Both quality of project design and implementation of projects radically improved: Project results closed the fundamental performance gaps, with a remarkable eighty percent (80%) of the projects completed within timeframe and budget. These included retail sales increases, higher certification scores, new product/service launches, and cost savings. The level of understanding of organizational project dynamics was raised significantly, along with the skills needed to manage projects with a performance-driven approach. This sustained effort was evaluated in the design and early stages of implementation of the second wave of projects.
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