Sunday, February 28, 2021

Meet Botswana’s top project management trainer

Years ago, Okitanye Gaogane’s workday was the standard 730 a.m.-1630 p.m. grind and naturally came standard with not having to go the extra mile.

“Right now as a consultant I don’t have a life because I’m working all the time,” says Gaogane on a day that a media interview and yet another loadshedding spell are making a huge imposition on his time.

Working all the time is the result of being Head of Academy at Innolead Consulting, Botswana’s premier project management consultancy which has handled and continues to handle some of the major projects in the country. Little wonder then that Gaogane’s work ethic has evolved the way it has because if you are going to teach your students about efficiency, you must yourself be efficient. However, he doesn’t understate the challenges he faces in service of the latter. The workshops he conducts start at 8 o’clock and it rankles with him that some charges (most of whom are adults working for the government) “disrespect” him by nonchalantly showing up two hours late.

“It can be very frustrating,” says Gaogane who to colleagues and friends, is simply known as “OG” – not in the conception of the Black American ghetto where that is shorthand for “original gangster” (meaning old-school gangster) but as a conflation of the first letters of his first and last name.

Armed with an engineering degree, Gaogane’s formal introduction to the world of work was as an Inspector of Mines in the Ministry of Minerals, Water and Energy Resources where he worked for three years. In 2004 he joined BCL mine in Selebi Phikwe where he was a Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) Officer for three years. Responding to a newspaper job advertisment from X-pert Group would change the trajectory of his career. After a “chat” with the company’s directors, Gaogane says that he was invited onboard, jumped at the offer and hardly two months after landing was thrown in the deep end. The Botswana Diamond Valuing Company was transitioning to Diamond Trading Company and as a project management consultancy, X-pert Group (which evolved to become Innolead Consulting) had been tasked with “rationalising staff numbers” for the new company ÔÇô the fancy phrase being a sugarcoat of what in some instances means retrenching employees. The project was scheduled to take a whole year but Gaogane was able to complete it in six months.

“That was a record,” he says.

There is a bigger, better record that he can rhapsodise about. For the past six years, Gaogane has been the only person in the country with the coveted Prince2 Trainer qualification. Verbalized “Prince2” might sound like an assertion of one’s royal pedigree of either “I am also a prince” or “I’m Prince Number 2”. Actually it means something completely different: it is a stylised acronym for PRojects IN Controlled Environments, version 2. This is a project management methodology that encompasses the high-level management, control and organisation of a project. It describes procedures to coordinate people and activities in a project, how to design and supervise the project, and what to do if the project has to be adjusted if it doesn’t develop as planned. Initially developed in 1989 by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency as a United Kingdom government standard for information systems project management, Prince2 is now the gold standard for project management in many UK government departments and across the United Nations system. Rights to this methodology are owned by AXELOS Ltd, a joint venture between the British cabinet office and Capita plc.

In ascending order, Prince2 certification levels are as follows: Prince2 Foundation, Prince2 Practitioner, Prince2 Professional and Prince2 Trainer. Gaogane has attained the highest qualification and a colleague of his says that the best way she explains Prince2 Trainer to those who don’t know much about project management is by comparing it to the CIMA qualification in accounting. Prince2 Trainers are re-accredited every three years and undergo a surveillance check every 12 months to assess their professional knowledge and training capability. It so happens that citizen or non-citizen, Gaogane is the only person in the entire country who is a certified Prince2 Trainer. If project management lent itself to the theatricality of Bruce Lee-era kung fu movies, he would be the sullen grandmaster with a dramatically long and elaborately-sculpted gray goatee, growling out short commands in dubbed English in the process of transforming fragile greenhorns into lethal fighting machines.

It’s dangerously easy to conclude that with millions of pula and thousands of hours being spent on project management courses, the hundreds of graduates who have undergone such training are putting national project management on the right course. The reality though is that the project management situation in Botswana tells one to worry and nothing remotely resembling a perfect outcome is in sight. Up and down the country, government projects lie unfinished while there actually are civil servants who can help mitigate this situation.

In January this year, Innolead Consulting and Oracle Primavera co-hosted a half-day project management seminar at the Gaborone International Convention Centre. Gaogane, who personally conducts some of the training, said that some people come for the training just because their supervisors don’t want to see them around the office. After the training, these people go back to the office and their normal work without ever being required to put their training to use. That is only how half bad the situation is. While executive officers and policy-makers don’t attend project management courses in order that they can gain valuable insights into this discipline, they (as part of steering committees) are ultimately the ones who make fateful decisions with regard to how multi-billion pula projects should be managed.

“There is no accountability at executive and policy-making levels. We are making people competent but the system is not. That is very frustrating,” says Gaogane, adding though that he takes solace in what tomorrow promises. “While we are not getting the right audience, the people that we are training will assume senior posts within the civil service, become decision-makers and implement what they learnt about project management.”

Away from the classroom, Gaogane also does consultancy work and was project manager when the Botswana Training Authority and the Tertiary Education Council transitioned into the Botswana Qualifications Authority and the Human Resources Development Council respectively. He played similar role in the rationalisation of the Botswana Examinations Council. In all three cases he used the Prince2 methodology.

His project management proficiency extends beyond Prince2. Through application of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) framework, Gaogane was involved in the setting up of the project office for the Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines (which are owned by Debswana Mining Company) in 2008. By his account, to date this project “is still a benchmark for many organisations across the country.”

“Through PMBOK, one develops a project management manual which states processes to be followed from idea generation through business case development through planning, execution, closing and benefits tracking,” he adds.

To take full advantage of all benefits that accrue from project management, Gaogane says that there is desperate need to protect the discipline as a profession. He makes his case by first stating that a nurse who works under a doctor for years doesn’t qualify to become a doctor and will never identify himself/herself as such. On the other hand, a “welder in Mogoditshane” has no compunction about putting up an “engineering workshop” sign outside his workplace, an ordinary person who has never darkened the doorway of a lecture room suddenly becomes an “estate agent” when he sells a ploughing field and a builder constructing a “two-and-half house” calls himself a project manager.

“The situation in Botswana is such that some professions are not protected and the result is that we have a lot of people who are not certified in project management calling themselves project managers. In other countries ÔÇô like South Africa, project management is a protected profession; you can only call yourself a project manager if you are professionally qualified,” he says.

Himself a professionally qualified project manager, Gaogane can go to places where the profession is protected and make a lot more money than he is locally. He says that Canadian friends have invited him to come work there. So far he has managed to resist all temptation because he doesn’t want to contribute to Africa’s brain drain problem.

“Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have been developed by people from Africa. Should I run away and develop Canada when I can be one of those who are developing Botswana?” he poses rhetorically.

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