“Yet sometimes we are putting our foot in our mouth with these projects by failing to follow certain best practices, especially on stakeholder management.” He has just published a paper in UK on the issue of consultation in this process. “The first ‘P’ is the public. We can’t afford not to do consultations with the public. The success of these projects relies on proper consultation and this has already been shown all over the world. The current situation around the e-toll road in Gauteng is a good case in point here.” Apart from current research into this very topical issue, other projects currently under way in his department include the development of appropriate project management models in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) arena, understanding and implementation of strategic alliances and technology transfers between companies who operate on different platforms. “We draw from different approaches in the field all over the world and incorporate them in our teaching. We do not subscribe to a particular point of view, but aim to be all-encompassing in order to give our students relevant, practical and implementable information.”
Prof Rwelamila has received the accolade of having been acknowledged as the second most cited person in the world in his field. He is understandably proud of this. “It told me that my work has impact and that what I am doing is relevant.” This happened in 2005, and still he is adamant about remaining relevant. His secondment to work on the development of the construction industry policy for the government, ultimately saw him taking up his position at UNISA. The task required him to be in Pretoria for two years, but after that time, upon returning to University of Cape Town (UCT) in Cape Town, he received an offer from the SBL, and has remained here since. He was also a founding member of the South African Council for Project and Construction Management (SACPCMP), - and is a past president as well. This was a challenge for him. “It involved a mindset change among the people in the professions for one. But now there are more than 3 000 registered members of the council.”
Citing successes at the SBL, he mentions some of the modules he developed specifically for the courses. “There are two different modules, one for executive project management, and the other one strategic project management, designed with different positions in mind. The course content stresses the connection between the organisation and the project and the way in which the project impacts the organisation. Prof Rwelamila draws the distinction between a project based organisation and a functional one and says the two cannot be managed in the same way. Project based organisations are driven by the fact that each project has a beginning and an end. Routine, or functional, organisations, keep going without an end point in sight, he points out. “More than anything, projects are about team work and the mindset should be on the team, not on individual contributions.
Advice to academic incumbents
“How to attract people to, and keep them in, the academic field, is a million dollar question. There are two sides to this, on the one hand the person is a professional and on the other side, an academician. This is quite demanding, since academics need to be researchers while practitioners, on the other hand, focus on the practical. These two meet in the academic field. Anyone wanting to become an academic must have it clear in his/her mind that it takes hard work,” he says. “As a higher learning institution, and in particular as a business school, we have to make sure we merge theory and practice. The research we embark on must inform some of the dynamics of what we are teaching. Another important aspect is to publish your work. The National Research Foundation (NRF) rates researchers. One’s peers have to find value in one’s research for it to be relevant,” he points out. “To grow our own timber, as the saying goes, we should identify possible future academics from our own students first of all. But to attract them to the academic field, we have to overcome the hurdle of income, because usually professionals earn more in the field.”
Prof Rwelamila has some suggestions on how to overcome this. “Finding sponsors to bridge the income of academics is one good way of attracting academics. That means we will be able to attract – and keep – people in the field who will be equally committed to research and teaching. We are currently relying on many part timers, who work in the field and teach part time, who cannot be involved in research.” He also suggests that a consulting arm could be established at the SBL, where funds could be generated at the same time with practical experiences in the field. This will be able to generate income over just about all the disciplines at the school. Prof Rwelimila’s passion for his subject is clear. He has worked at nine universities across the globe and UNISA SBL remains his home. “We have the advantage of being the oldest open university in the world, with an established mixed tuition model. It gives our students the proverbial ‘best of both worlds’ experience.
Standing out from the Best
UNISA SBL moved to its present campus in mid 1994 and currently occupies only 60% of the land, making future expansion easy
All the SBL’s programmes are designed to be innovative, socially responsible, ethically engaged and globally informed
Project management, as with other programmes, aims to meet modern challenges in organisations
The mixed tuition model has stood the school in good stead and current programmes are building on this model with the help of new technologies
Projects now All-Encompassing Field
Prof Pantaleo Daniel Rwelamila is a man whose global competence has received recognition already as long ago as 2005. As Professor of Project Management at UNISA’s SBL, he has become known as a pioneer in his field.
He explains that Project Management is not one dimensional, even though it is usually construed as such. “We deal with procurement, risk management, and issues related to supply chain in projects, as part of project management, much more than just financials and managing a team.” He is involved in research in the area of project management in small businesses, and the dynamics of small business primarily in construction, but also in other industries. Prof Rwelamila’s expertise also includes the area of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and he says South Africa has the largest number of PPPs on the continent, more than any other country.
by Ilse Ferreira