Project Leaders and Managers


By Dr M. Amweelo It was a privilege to have travelled and to have had an enjoyable breakfast on the Desert Express, one of Namibia’s prides, in October 2003. It is truly an example of what can be achieved by a State-owned operational entity amidst a world of competition where the highest service standards are of the essence for success, let alone survival. If the Desert Express would not perform to the satisfaction of its passengers, mainly foreigners who demand the best service, it would derail and head for failure. I believe that the train trip has placed us on the right track and in good spirits to successfully tackle the restructuring and, in some cases, get our restructuring initiatives back on track. We are now busy with the restructuring, attempting to divorce the non-core from the core functions and place them where we believe they will best be taken care of. The main purpose of restructuring is to strategize on how we can improve our service to the nation at reduced cost. In other words, we must find ways of how to improve our service efficiency levels. This is the crux of the matter. We thus have to discuss how we can meet our obligations to the nation. Furthermore, how can we demonstrate that we act transparently and accountably for the funds provided us. Against this background, we need to critically evaluate whether we are serving the nation optimally. If not, then we will have to address this in our plans. Restructuring is therefore necessary to obtain the optimum efficiency, which our nation expects of us. According to Michael Hammer, in his The Re-engineering Revolution Handbook, the official definition of re-engineering, or restructuring, is the fundamental rethinking and radical design of business process to bring about dramatic improvements in performance. He says there are four key words in this definition. Dramatic improvement does not mean making marginal improvements to your business, not just five or ten percent better. It is about making quantum leaps in performance, achieving breakthroughs. Performance can be measured in various ways – reduced costs, increased speed and greater accuracy. The choice is yours, depending on what is important in your business. The second key word is radical, which means going to the root of things. Restructuring or re-engineering is not about improving what already exists. Hammer says, it is rather about throwing it away and starting over – beginning with the proverbial clean slate and re-inventing how you do your work. The third key word in the definition is process. Here it is meant that a group of related tasks together create value for the customer, or the nation as a whole. The nation’s or the customer’s only concern is with the end result, the delivered services or goods, created by the sum of all the related activities. The fourth key word in the definition is redesign. Restructuring or re-engineering is about the design of how work is done. We often think of design as applying only to products. Restructuring should be based on the premise that the design of processes – how work is done – is of essential importance. The restructuring process by the government has produced good results with the performance of the established entities continuously improving. We managed to achieve exemplary work with regard to the restructuring of the roads-related non-core functions as well as the management of Namibia’s major entities such as: Namibia Airports Company, Namport, Telecom, Nampost, Nampower, Namwater, Roads Authority, Roads Contractor Company, Road Fund Administration, and many others. The planning preparations and hard work have brought us a very clear vision of where we are heading. I believe the way has been paved successfully and straight, to give all of us peace of mind that Namibia will be able to take care of its roads network into the future. Namibia will indeed be setting world standards with the road-user charging system through which users will pay for the effective maintenance and construction of the country’s roads network on a sustainable basis. The roads reform aims to bring about a more efficient and customer-orientated road sector. What are the major changes we are talking about? – The institutional arrangements for planning, designing, constructing and maintaining Namibia’s national roads network has now been restructured, and – The arrangement for funding the roads via the national budget is being replaced by funding via a road fund and a road-user charging system. The re-engineering guru, Michael Hammer, says an effective re-engineering leader must be one part visionary, one part communicator, and one part leg-breaker. Those who are entrusted with the restructuring task, who don’t fulfil these roles, will doom their venture to failure. Weak leadership has many manifestations. One is skimping on resources. If management is truly serious about restructuring, they will insist that the very best people commit themselves to it. Another sign of weak leadership is burying restructuring in the middle of the work’s agenda. Restructuring can’t be number five on a list of ten; it should be number one on a list of one. Restructuring or re-engineering means the complete re-invention of how you operate; the resultant changes should be evident in every aspect of your operations. Restructuring is a mammoth undertaking that can’t take a backseat to anything else. Another symptom of inadequate leadership is quitting too early. Leadership should not give up, even if hiccups are experienced. To paraphrase Kipling, the true test of leadership is keeping your head when all those around you are losing theirs. Furthermore, in restructuring or re-engineering, according to Hammer, real success comes not from settling for half measures or preliminary results but by pushing ahead to attain dramatic, breakthrough improvements. Another sign of weakness is slapping people’s wrists instead of breaking their legs. Often, as a restructured or re-engineering process is implemented, some key managers will perceive it as an intrusion on his or her domain. By various means, explicit or covert, they will resist change. The game is lost is if the individual is urged to reconsider his or her opposition to change, instead of confronting the person harshly. Rising to the challenge is definitely difficult and very significant. We require to be a passionate, committed and engaged leadership. I believe that the service delivery levels of these above mentioned entities are much higher than they have been in civil service and I am sure that the nation and its customers are already reaping the benefits from what they have created. Quite a number of people may have been caught up in the hype about recent negativity about some of the State-owned operational entities. I believe this has been fuelled by people who don’t have the right information or who carry the wrong perceptions. These people shoot down the entities as a whole because of isolated incidents where individuals have abused their positions or due to possible loopholes in the systems. This also happens within the civil service and should be rooted out wherever it occurs. The fact of the matter is that these entities have improved tremendously. Over a short period, the reform of the road sector has shown a substantial increase in efficiency and a decrease in real terms of the cost of maintaining Namibia’s excellent roads. Is that not an efficiency gain? The corporate governance structures of the State-owned operational entities, authorities and agencies, and indeed of the new entities which will be formed out of government, should be such that we keep pressure on them to perform better, even if further restructuring is necessary. Winston Churchill once said: ‘to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often’. To once again make use of Michael Hammer: in a world of rapid flux, organizations should change their priorities from a traditional focus on planning, control, and managed growth, to emphasize speed, innovation, flexibility, quality, service, and cost. The driving forces in restructuring or re-engineering are characterized by the three C’s: customers, competition, and change. Customers, our nation, have become more sophisticated and demanding, and have much more knowledge about their needs. Competition is not only global but is also local. Regarding change, what was unthinkable yesterday, is a reality and routine today. Furthermore, we should communicate our activities much more, with our stakeholders and the public. It will, however, be useless to only communicate if our process and the way we work don’t change for the better. According to Bob Nelson, it is hard to run blindfolded. We have to see where we are going in order to get there fast. The clearer our vision, the faster we can go. Remember that action speaks louder than words.