Barbados has had a stupendously successful 50 years of economic development since independence. But in the face of significant global change and challenges, it is important to examine what must be done to complete the next 50 years with similar success.
One approach to business that could help deliver specific changes and improvements in economic performance, and even be used to manage large-scale transformations such an economic turnaround, is the “project management” approach.
The basic principle of project management is that any change, whether it’s a huge infrastructure project or a complex business change, can be defined as a project, with a defined set of outputs, a specific resource and budgetary allocation, and timescales for delivery. This approach also sets out the role of the project manager, who is a competent individual (or sometimes a company) who can manage the project in accordance with agreed practice, and who can report on progress, spending and risks as the project proceeds.
The project management approach applies a strong discipline to agreeing scope and requirements up front. A large number of projects fail because this is overlooked.
Some kind of “gateway” approach can be implemented, which imposes strict rules around moving through each phase of the project. Key parties to the project are identified, such as “user” and “sponsor”, and a stakeholder plan is agreed early on, including who needs to be informed and consulted as the project proceeds. In fact, project management is now such a widely respected approach that it is now increasingly adopted across a range of sectors, including infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, finance, health, defence and aerospace.
Let’s say, for example, that Barbados wished to become a world leader in bio-medicine or a similar field.
A “project” for this change could be created, with clearly defined goals and timescales and a suitably competent project manager selected and appointed. Her or she would create a project plan and allocate resources to it.
The timeline might identify intermediate milestones as well as key stages such as getting in the world’s top ten in five years, top three in eight years, and number one in ten years. With a ruthless management determination and political support, this type of approach can be very successful.
Clearly, several such activities could be targeted, and world-beating performances could emerge. So it’s worth reflecting on what sectors Barbados may wish to become world-beating in within the next decade, and apply the “project management” approach.
Each economy has to find its niche; and the richer the economy, the higher up the value chain it has to climb in order to provide the standard of living citizens demand. This means finding activities that could benefit from the Barbados Unique Selling Proposition (USP), such as a professional/educated workforce, advanced infrastructure and rule of law, and being one of the most attractive places to live and work.
Linked to a broader economic policy, this approach could also kick-start some much-needed local manufacturing capability. For example, Barbados could aim to become the No. 1 manufacturer of solar power panels in the region, and thereby exploit the inevitable explosion in use of this and similar alternative renewable energy technologies.
It is true, of course, that there are many barriers to overcome in applying this approach to transformative change. But it can be successful, especially if used within a collaborative environment, where all parties – government, industry, trade unions and educators, come together to deliver the change with a collective will.
Finally, in a world of still available and cheap money, this approach – identifying a few significant step changes in the Barbados economy – could prove highly attractive to funders willing to invest in a secure environment and who want to see positive returns in the medium term. The “projects” approach would provide confidence in the management and rigour that would be applied to such investments.
So how do we get started? First, by drawing up a shortlist of candidate projects (and this would be an interesting discussion in its own right). Step two is to identify the talent needed to manage these projects, while step three is to gain stakeholder support. The final step is to ruthlessly pursue their completion.
This template could help Barbados open an exciting new chapter of economic success, providing many opportunities for growth.
It would also be a great way to build a collaborative and empowered society driving for co-developed goals.