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Wed 24 Feb 2010 04:00 AM

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Project management conundrum

Mounir Ajam, CEO of SUKAD discusses the best practices of project management in the petrochemicals industry.

Mounir Ajam, CEO of SUKAD discusses the best practices of project management in the petrochemicals industry.

How good are local project management practices in the petrochemicals industry?

Project management practices in the region are good and there is no question about it. But when competing on a global scale, where things are different, part of the competitiveness is in delivering the project successfully and that's very important, but unfortunately there is a lot of work to be done before reaching an international level.

If I look at project practices in SABIC, it is much more mature compared to other companies in other industrial fields, because petrochemical companies deal with mega projects. The smallest project would be considered as a mega project for other industries so the amount of money invested is huge and therefore petrochemicals companies want to have good system to run their projects. However, they are still a long way away from being able to compete on the world scale.

Why is that?

Because it is new in the region and there is a lot of misunderstanding about what project management is. Companies know about project management, but they don't understand what they need. They spend a lot of money in consultancy training, they don't spend it in the right place. But we were able, with our presence in the region. to provide an excellent model in practical project management right here.

How do you define a good project management practices?

If I want to simplify project management into a few words I would call it ‘discipline of approach'. The first thing that I would look at is; does this company have a systematic approach to manage the project? Do they have the standards, procedures and guidelines which are considered the most basic level of project management? Do they have the fundamental knowledge and ability to manage the project or does everybody do it in their way?

The other thing we can look for is whether they are willing to share data and their project performance; how are they doing with the project? What percentage of their projects are finished within their objectives?

Success in project management is the ability to deliver projects with consistency. In the downstream sector, the first step is that there should be a proper project management system in place.

There also should be best practice to get involved in spot management and change control. The process also includes safety, plus many other best practise techniques which are set by international organisations.

What are the difficulties that projects managers face?

Senior management sometimes set a deadline without referring to the project managers, who are the only people who can determine the termination date. Also, senior management set time, dates and targets without being realistic in their agenda, and this represents a real challenge. Project managers are rarely even part of setting these objectives. So they have to deliver to somebody else's expectations, which may not be proper or practical.

What is your downstream pedigree?

I have managed small and multiple projects and worked on mega projects with many of the world's leading organisations, such as: Exxon, BASF, and Saudi Aramco. My experience also includes projects in remote and multiple locations, major modularisation, joint ventures and alliances, multi-cultural and multi-national teams.

I have extensive experience working on reimbursable cost incentive based projects as well as fixed price contracts, prior to joining SUKAD. Besides my current position with SUKAD, I am also the co-founder and the chairman of the board for the Global Project and Process Management Association (GPPMA), based in Dubai.

My educational background is a masters degree in engineering and construction management from the top ranked university of California Berkeley in the USA.

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