Building Collapse: If only there was a Project Manager, then the Architects’ or Builders’ are not at fault.

Building collapse in Nigeria is now a common sight. Blames are traded, yet no one is held accountable.


Inemi Stephen

11/5/20217 min read

Building collapses in Nigeria has become more frequent and always has tragic consequences. People sustain catastrophic injuries or lose their lives in the event of a building collapse. Recently, a 21-storey building under construction collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria, killing at least 39 persons. The loss of lives is unacceptable and so it the waste of valuable resources knowing it could have been avoided.

Whenever the story of a collapsed building hits the media, the “who is responsible game” commences. In most of these cases, the storyline is replicated, sequentially, like it is all from the same movie script;
a) Building is under construction,
b) Building collapses,
c) People get injured or die,
d) Police, military and other government agencies come in
e) Claims that construction plans were not approved.
f) Claims of shoddy works, low quality materials and Engineer /Architect is not approved.

Questions are being asked. Why? What went wrong? Some research and Subject Matter Experts have identified some reasons, such as poor design, shoddy materials, others identified poor workmanship, as well as Design defects, non-enforcement of existing laws and the lack of or insufficient monitoring by inspectors as the leading causes of the accidents, others have identified that it is a project management related issue. Another research shows that 87.5% of Nigerian building failures is accountable to Man-made conditions, which is regarded as the major cause of building collapse over the decades.

Who is responsible and accountable when a building collapses?

Reports from several building incidents all appear scripted, the architect claims plans were not followed, the engineer blames sub standard quality materials supplied, the contractor will say owner will not pay premium prices for quality materials, the inspector will claim the building plans were not approved, the owner will say he is ignorant etc. The aftermath becomes trying to prove or disprove the Theory of Negligence, where a person acts in a careless (or “negligent”) manner, which results in someone else getting hurt or property being damaged. Negligence can often be a difficult area of law to define because it involves a legal analysis of the elements of negligence as they relate to the facts of a particular case, and in most cases, no one gets prosecuted, no one gets compensated, and the families of the bereaved are left devastated.

So, who is responsible and who is to be held accountable when a building collapses as everyone involved in the project seems to be self-exonerating? It is pertinent to point out here that the primary responsibility and accountability of the entire project lies with the Project Manager, not the architect, not the engineer or the builder.

So what does the Project Manager actually do?

In the broadest sense, project managers (PMs) are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the completion of specific projects for an organization while ensuring these projects are on time, on budget, meets stated quality, and within scope. This function is beyond the jurisdiction of the architect, the builder or the engineer and definitely not within the scope of the inspector. Project managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing out projects. They are accountable for the entire project scope, the project team and resources, adherence to standards, compliance with relevant laws, the project budget, and the success or failure of the project.

A recent research shows that only 17% of Nigerian building projects have good project managers, while 83% have bad ones. This means that more than half of all projects fail because they’re managed by people with no idea what they’re doing! The research suggests that the project manager can be used as a panacea for preventing building and infrastructural collapse in Nigeria. Another research concluded that having a professional qualification can lead to better performance on project sites, and that for professionals to be effective in preventing building collapse, minimum professional requirements are mandatory for the project team members.

Project managers are also responsible for ensuring that projects are completed on time and within budget. They must ensure that all stakeholders involved with the project understand their roles and responsibilities as well as monitor quality throughout the duration of the project. These stakeholders include but are not limited to: The Client/Project Owner, Contractors, Subcontractors, Architects, Builders, Engineers (Structural, Civil, Electrical, Mechanical), Inspectors from Control boards/others responsible for maintenance and repairs, the land surveyor, the urban and regional planner, the quantity surveyor and the estate surveyor among others.

What determines a project success or failure?

The success or failure of any particular project depends largely, on how well the Project Manager performs his duties. Unfortunately, most people find out too late when the project fails that an imposter is functioning as a project manager. Some also realize too late that their project manager failed them miserably because he/she is not trained properly or do not possess adequate knowledge about what good PM entails. There are several essential project management skills that trained PMs possesses which includes; 1. Effective Communication 2. Negotiation 3. Scheduling and Time Management 4. Leadership 5. Technical Expertise 6. Risk Management 7. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, 8. Team Management 9. Technological Affinity 10.Financial management.

It is clear that Project Management is a huge problem in Nigeria. The country has a high number of building collapses with 43 happening in 2019 alone and most of these are due to poor Project Management practices. The Chartered Institute of Project Managers of Nigeria (CIPMN) is working hard to reduce this number. The CIPMN is raising awareness about the importance of project management and calling for government regulations that will help ensure buildings are built safely and projects in general are delivered on time and with value. CIPMN is entrusted to make sure certified PMs can deliver results before giving them such responsibility; this is why CIPM was established; to provide training programs for Nigerian professionals who want to become certified Project Managers.

There is a popular misconception that Project Managers are only required when a project is about to be executed on site.

This fallacy is what leads to most project failures. A Project Manager is required from the inception of the vision till the closing of the Project. The PM is responsible for Project Requirements Elicitation (PRE), which is aimed at gathering the right information to develop the project requirements. Elicitation is a perpetual process during a project development. It is not a stagnant, compartmentalized activity. As issues arise, information gaps occur or new requirements evolve, the PM must initiate or continue elicitation of stakeholder input. The project’s success depends upon the accuracy, completeness, and detail of the stakeholder requirements. Eliciting requirements not only involves obtaining documented criteria but also uncovering latent or potential needs. There are several methods which includes, Brainstorming, Document Analysis, Focus Group, Interface Analysis, Requirements Workshop, Reverse Engineering and many others. If a certified PM is not part of the elicitation stage, the likelihood of the project failing is very high. A project manager is not supposed to be consulted when the project has commenced, he/she has to be an integral part of the project from the initiation point to project completion.

The CIPMN Governing council and its Resourcery members have been leading the way in developing standards and certifications for project managers in Nigeria so they can demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

They recently developed a project management methodology called DUCAP which is designed in consideration of the unique Nigerian project management environment. The methodology puts into consideration the PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal factors) and the inherent challenges embedded in Project Initiation, a necessary alignment of VMOST which is the criticality of Vision aligning with Mission, Project Objectives, Strategy and Tactics. The DUCAP methodology also exposes CIPMN certified PMs to the concept of a business case validation, as a pre-requisite for project success. It is no longer about “successfully” delivering a project, it also incorporates the project meeting its business case. These are indeed a paradigm shift in the Nigerian project management thinking. From ideas to reality, PMs are trained with an imperative of an adaptive agile mindset, to be able to cope with projects in a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world.

These and many more will assist CIPMN certified members to gain more credibility with employers who want quality results from projects that go smoothly without delays or cost overruns. The duty therefore lies on individuals, organizations and governments that want to embark to projects to utilize the services of certified PMs and also on CIPMN to flush out the quacks in the Nigerian industry. Human lifes is irreplaceable and the resources lost in projects failure can be minimised or eliminated with the utilization of certified project managers on all projects.


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