Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

4. Managing the project

4.1 The nature of the management function
4.2 Managers
4.3 Preconditions for good project management
4.4 The importance of management systems
4.5 Personnel training
4.6 Water charges and their effect on the quality of management

This chapter starts by considering what the nature of the management function should be in irrigation projects, who should perform it and what conditions are required for it to be performed most effectively. The need for planners to develop a well-designed management system is then emphasized. The basic components of a good management system are described, together with some of the principal benefits that can be expected to follow from its adoption. Finally, two further aids to good management are discussed: in-service training and the provision of added incentives for project staff through the retention of revenue from water charges on the project itself.

4.1 The nature of the management function

4.1.1 Overall direction and coordination
4.1.2 Management of specialized activities

There are two main elements in the management of irrigation projects. One is the overall management function, which has much in common with the management of any other kind of organization. It is concerned with the direction and coordination of the decision-making processes within the project area and its purpose is to get all those involved in the process (farmers, staff, external government agencies) to work towards the achievement of the project's objectives. The other element is the management of specialized activities (water distribution, maintenance, irrigation assistance services) which are peculiar to irrigation projects. These activities have certain characteristics calling for particular kinds of management skills and styles of operation.

4.1.1 Overall direction and coordination

Planning and management are essentially part of the same process. Project management is concerned with the implementation phase of the planning cycle (plan formulation - implementation - evaluation,- plan reformulation), but it also contains within itself the same elements and sequential steps as the broader planning process: plan formulation - budgeting - programming - monitoring - plan reformulation. One of the principal functions of the project manager, then, is to plan. He is not simply an administrator, required to react pragmatically to problems as they arise.

The most important tasks of the project manager include:

- setting objectives and priorities (short-term, medium-term, long-term);

- directing the annual planning and budgeting processes;

- directing the formulation of detailed work programmes for staff members within each of the project's units;

- monitoring and training staff and farmers to implement the programme;

- supervising the day-to-day implementation of the programme, identifying problems that arise and finding solutions for them;

- monitoring project performance against objectives;

- monitoring staff performance against agreed work targets;

- seeking the opinion of the project's clients (the farmers) about the quality of the services provided to them;

- identifying strengths and weaknesses and recommending appropriate remedies for the weaknesses.

For the last of these tasks - the diagnosis of causes for poor project performance - the project manager will require a system of monitoring capable of identifying the relative importance of the following factors as influences on performance:

i. Resources (finance, manpower, equipment).

ii. Skills (technical, management, communication).

iii. Motivation (material incentives - salaries, bonuses, promotions; non-material incentives - job satisfaction, recognition of good performance by senior officials).

4.1.2 Management of specialized activities

Of the three most important field activities of irrigation management - water distribution, system maintenance and irrigation extension - extension activities are likely to assume greatest relative importance in the early stages of a project, and water distribution in its later stages. System maintenance will remain an extremely important ancillary activity throughout but, in contrast to the other two activities, it does not require constant interaction between staff and farmers and to that extent should entail somewhat fewer difficulties with regard to man-management.

In the initial phase of projects in which farmers are unfamiliar with irrigated agriculture, it is clear that special emphasis will need to be placed on various aspects of agricultural and irrigation extension work, in some cases accompanied by the development of infrastructural and commercial services. Water scarcity is unlikely to be an immediate problem; water distribution, though always an important activity, may therefore require rather less detailed attention at this stage. Because the focus will be on teaching activities (about field level water application, watercourse operation and maintenance, irrigation rules), junior staff will have a particularly important part to play; and there is therefore a correspondingly greater need for management techniques which will maximize the effectiveness of their role as communicators and counsellors to the farmers.

A common problem affecting the management of all the field activities of an irrigation organization at any stage of its development is the widely dispersed location of its junior field staff. On large projects, decentralized regional offices can greatly assist senior officials in their ability to supervise the performance of junior staff, but carefully devised methods of information feedback and management are also extremely important.

As the farmers' agricultural knowledge increases, and with it their demand for water, so will the need for well-designed water distribution techniques. Not only is it important that these should be technically finely-tuned (in their capacity to match scarce supplies as closely as possible to demand) but they should also contain inbuilt mechanisms designed to counteract the almost inevitable pressures which will be placed on operating staff to misallocate water. Because of its frequent technical complexity and the tensions associated with the rationing of a scarce and highly-valued "open access" resource like water, water distribution is usually the most difficult of all the field activities of an irrigation project to manage well. It requires specialist technical skills, man-management skills and skills of communication with farmers.

The elements of water distribution which appear to make the most critical demands on management skill are:

a. Planning. Collection and analysis of both supply and demand data; estimation of probabilities and risks. Reconciliation of objectives and preferences of different interest groups - farmers, irrigation officials, agricultural officials, higher level government agencies - in order to reach agreement on the forthcoming seasonal plan. Communication of the plan to farmers.

b. Implementation. Adjustment of the seasonal plan in the light of observed variations in actual patterns of supply and demand. Communication of adjusted schedules to farmers.

In the interests of equitable water distribution, motivating staff (through rewards and sanctions) to resist pressures from farmers to misallocate water; also rewarding farmers for good watercourse operation and maintenance and punishing them for misappropriations.

c. Monitoring. Development of simple information and control systems with clearly-defined criteria of performance and suitable objective indicators.

Spot checking to ensure the accuracy of information being collected by field staff for monitoring project performance (e.g. gauges for measurement of water losses; crop yield estimates for computation of production levels).

Spot checking to monitor the performance of field staff (are they where they should be? Are their field diaries correctly entered? Are their records complete and consistent?). Identification of reasons for divergences between prescription and practice.

4.2 Managers

The formal management structure of irrigation projects may vary considerably, depending on whether they are constituted as Irrigation Associations or are government or semi-public institutions. If they are Associations, the responsibility for major policy decisions is vested with a farmers' Representative Committee or Governing Board, but authority for the execution of day-to-day decisions within the broad policy framework is delegated to professional managers, usually chosen by the Committee. On government-run projects, the policy framework may be largely determined by higher-level government authorities in consultation with the project managers.

However, it is extremely important that on government-run projects there should also be some formal mechanisms for consultation with farmers' representatives before major management decisions are taken, in order to ensure that the professional managers are aware of and sensitive to their clients' needs and opinions and are to some extent accountable to them. Specific provision should therefore be made in each project's operational procedures for periodic meetings between managers and farmers' representatives to discuss policy issues. Provision should also be made in the procedures for the regular dissemination of information to farmers about decisions taken - not only with regard to variations in water flows but also with regard to actual patterns of project expenditure.

A common question which arises in connection with the choice of professional managers is whether they should be general administrators or technical specialists; and, if they are to be specialists, in what kind of academic discipline should they have been trained. The argument in favour of generalist administrators is strongest in the case of very large projects, particularly those in which a large number of diverse activities have to be coordinated. For example, large settlement schemes and "integrated" cash crop schemes may often be most suitably headed by a senior administrator with long general management experience, with the support of technical specialists in charge of each major activity. On the other hand, where the project is not unusually large and its range of activities is limited to water management, with or without agricultural extension, a technical specialist may be suitable as a project manager. As has already been stressed, he should be familiar with agricultural matters and farmers' social and economic conditions as well as with irrigation engineering.

4.3 Preconditions for good project management

The chances that the project management function will be performed effectively will be much increased if the managers have been provided with a favourable decision-making environment. On the other hand, if certain conditions have not been met, their tasks may be made extremely difficult. The most important conditions for a favourable decision-making environment are:

i. an adequately designed irrigation system;

ii. an appropriate organizational structure;

iii. the establishment of consistent and clearly-defined overall objectives;

iv. a well-designed management system (detailed management procedures, job descriptions, information and monitoring systems);

v. policies on staff recruitment, production and salaries which provide incentives for the attainment of project objectives;

vi. adequate financial support for recurrent expenditure, either from government funds or from water charges paid to the project, or a combination of the two;

vii. an effective legal framework, for the enforcement of water distribution rules or the control of groundwater extraction.

These are all essential elements in the framework of project management and should always be given careful consideration at the project planning stage as part of the process of "planning for management".

In practice, many of these conditions often prove to be absent. In the case of some of them (items v - vii) the main reasons are to be found in the realm of government policy, and the introduction of changes is likely to be impossible in the short term. This will probably be particularly true in the case of policies regarding the salaries of government employees.

Policies which favour low water charges and therefore contribute to the inadequacy of recurring funds may also prove difficult to change. However, it should be one of the functions of project planners to bring to the attention of government the extent to which these policies can be expected to act as constraints on project management and performance; evaluations of existing projects should be able to provide the necessary evidence.

In the case of certain other policies, modifications may be somewhat easier to achieve in the medium term, e.g. the introduction of more flexible regulations with regard to promotion on merit; or the retention of a certain proportion of the revenue from water charges for reinvestment within the project. If so, project planners should consider raising these issues with government and encouraging the review of current policies.

Meanwhile, there are other factors capable of having a profound influence on a project manager's ability to perform well for which the planners themselves are largely responsible (items i - iv). Problems created by the inadequacy of system design can often be extremely serious; in the worst cases good management may become virtually impossible. Certain kinds of deficiency (e.g. absence of measuring structures) can be rectified relatively quickly but others (e.g. inadequate watercourse layout, insufficient provision of drainage, insufficient control structures) may require substantial programmes of rehabilitation. The second factor, inappropriateness of organizational structure, has already been discussed. As in the case of many of the policy factors, government may require considerable time in which to agree to significant changes in organizational structures and then to plan and implement its decisions. In addition, there are two further factors - the provision of clear objectives and a well-designed management system - which can be dealt with in the short term and are vital to the project manager in all circumstances, whatever the longer-term constraints within which he may be obliged to operate.

There are no complex reasons of policy why these two items should not be considered in detail by planners whenever a new irrigation project is being designed or an old one being rehabilitated. In practice, however, they are frequently neglected -largely because they are not included in the planners' terms of reference.

The establishment of clear overall objectives requires consultation between the planners and higher-level government officials. It is essential that clear objectives should be agreed for the particular project concerned and that they should be consistent with the broader objectives of government at the national and provincial levels. They should be unambiguously recorded in the project manual. Since national objectives are obviously subject to revision in accordance with changing circumstances, provision should also be made for the periodic review and updating of project objectives.

The design of an appropriate management system is a much more complex and time-consuming task and requires more detailed discussion.

4.4 The importance of management systems

4.4.1 A management system and its components - An example
4.4.2 Particular requirements of irrigation projects
4.4.3 Planning management systems

Management systems are required as an aid to decision-making in any organization. They are particularly valuable in the context of irrigation management, because this involves the performance of many activities which lend themselves unusually well to systematization and programming. This is especially true of water distribution and maintenance; but even agricultural extension, which always requires a considerable degree of adaptability on the part of its staff to variations in local conditions, can also benefit greatly from a substantial degree of planning and control under irrigated conditions.

In the case of projects largely depending on government funds rather than on direct contributions from the farmers within the project area, there is a further powerful reason why effective management systems are needed. On such projects one of the most potent mechanisms for directing project managers towards the objective of satisfying their clients' requirements - payment in return for services rendered - is absent. In these situations, which are the norm in most kinds of service institution, it is especially important that objectives and priorities should be clearly defined and that very specific procedures and easily measurable performance standards should be developed so that the efforts of managers and their staff will be focussed on attaining these objectives.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that any irrigation project which does not have a detailed management system is lacking an essential tool of management and cannot be expected to perform at a level approaching its potential. Project managers cannot themselves be expected to produce their own management systems and procedures, although they may often be able to suggest changes and improvements in existing systems. Where they are either absent or deficient, project managers should bring the matter to the urgent attention of the government's planning agencies.

An irrigation project requires management systems which will provide guidelines both for the performance of the overall project management function and for the performance of the specialized field activities. Since performance of the specialized activities is discussed in some detail in later chapters, an example of a management system will be outlined here which is most immediately relevant to the overall management function. However, the basic principles embodied in the system can also be used in planning systems for each of the specialized activities.

4.4.1 A management system and its components - An example

The Programming and Implementation Management (PIM) system was developed by Belshaw and Chambers (1973) for use in area development programmes in Kenya. Its three main components are:

- a programming exercise, carried out annually and held just before or just after the beginning of the financial year. This is a meeting at which all those directly concerned with the implementation of decisions (junior as well as senior staff) jointly and freely draw up a phased work programme for the coming year.

- a management meeting, usually held monthly, at which the same people review progress against the phased work programme, identify bottlenecks and agree on what remedial action should be taken;

- an action report, a monthly management report which briefly summarizes the progress made and the problems encountered, and names those responsible for action; it is sent simultaneously to all those concerned, including officials in higher-level government organizations in cases where the project's work programme is affected by the timing of the release of government funds.

The programming exercise, which is the most crucial part of the system, starts with an open-minded discussion of the objectives of the project and of its various component action programmes. Once agreement has been reached on objectives and the feasibility of achieving them, the programming process begins. Its main stages are:

- listing and agreeing the operations to be carried out;
- identifying and agreeing who is responsible for each operation;
- agreeing start and completion times for each operation;
- agreeing targets and a completion indicator for each operation;
- checking for feasibility, agreement and acceptance of targets.

Various techniques - involving the use of blackboards and programming charts -can be used as aids to the programming exercise. They are intended not Only to encourage clarity of thought but also to stimulate free discussion about the merits of alternative proposals. Through this discussion, the project manager tries to ensure that the proposals are realistic and that all those attending the meeting are fully and freely committed to the programme and to achieving their part in it.

At the monthly management meeting the project manager checks on progress with all responsible. Entries are made on the programming chart to indicate which programmes are on time or on target and which are behind time or below target. Remedial action is then discussed and decided. The action report is intended to be a management control device. It is not (as many reports are) just a means for communicating routine information. It follows directly from the management meeting and records its findings. It contains a brief statement of progress made, whether or not targets have been achieved, the remedial action if they have not been achieved, and who should take that action. The report is written by the project manager and is quickly and widely distributed.

Evaluation of the PIM system showed that it contributed to improved performance, not only because more efficient use was made of existing resources of staff, equipment and time, but also because the emphasis on joint programming, involving junior as well as senior staff, reduced previous tendencies to authoritarian behaviour and consequently enhanced the morale and motivation of junior staff. Specific benefits identified were as follows:

i. the procedures encouraged a more participative, egalitarian and less authoritarian approach to decision-making;

ii. wasteful meetings were eliminated; each meeting was clearly focussed on details of implementation, who should do what, when and how;

iii. lengthy routine reports were eliminated; the action report was problem and opportunity-oriented and was designed as a management tool for getting things done;

iv. collaboration between departments and specialist units was greatly improved;

v. staff at all levels set their own targets instead of having them imposed from above; staff were found to set themselves quite high targets and, because they drew up their own programmes, they developed a greater commitment to the programmes for which they were responsible;

vi. joint programming helped to identify the resources needed; reasons for failures and delays were clearly shown in the action report, including late releases of funds from higher level authorities;

vii. staff were trained to think in detail about their work commitments for the following year, and periods of over and underload were more easily identified; the allocation of responsibilities for each operation was clearly specified;

viii. senior officials of the same rank were encouraged to compete against each other in the maintenance of high performance standards, since actual performance became widely known through the management meetings and action reports;

ix. the capabilities and confidence of junior staff were increased as a result of their participation in discussions and their ability to contribute local knowledge; and

x. the effectiveness and status of the project manager was increased, both in relation to his own staff and to higher level government agencies.

4.4.2 Particular requirements of irrigation projects

The basic principles and techniques of the PIM system could clearly be used in the development of similar systems for the overall management of irrigation projects. One modification to the system which would help to strengthen the project management's accountability to its clients would be to include farmers' representatives among those attempting the programming exercise and/or receiving copies of the monthly action report.

In the case of the specialized field activities, still greater modifications would be required. For agricultural and irrigation extension activities a pattern similar to the Benor Training and Visit System could prove suitable. Its principal elements are the regular provision of weekly or fortnightly training sessions for junior field staff, at which they are briefed by senior Subject Matter Specialists about topical issues expected to feature prominently in their discussions with farmers; and a regular timetable of farm visits to which field staff are expected to adhere. Various mechanisms of management control, including field diaries, are used to enable senior officials to check that junior staff are keeping to their schedules and are providing correct advice.

Detailed Operation and Maintenance Manuals are common in most countries with highly developed agricultural sectors, and there are some good examples in small-farm agriculture - for example, those of the Khairpur Tubewell Project, Pakistan, the irrigation districts of Mexico, the Irrigation Associations of Spain, the Gezira Scheme, Sudan, etc. On many projects, however, such manuals are either lacking altogether or else they are very inadequate, often because they are old and require radical revision. The scarcity of good operational manuals is a particular matter for concern. In addition to specifying the detailed procedures on which estimates of water supply and demand should be built up, it is essential that they should also contain effective methods of monitoring project performance and the performance of field staff.

4.4.3 Planning management systems

The development of appropriate management systems for individual irrigation projects requires the initial production of a prototype system which can subsequently be modified to the needs of particular conditions through testing and adaptation in the field. For operation and maintenance purposes, different prototypes should be developed for each distinct agro-climatic region within a particular country, in accordance with variations in the methods of water distribution and the irrigation system designs required to support them.

The formulation of these prototype systems may often take considerable time. Although apparently very simple, the particular PIM procedures developed for the area programmes in Kenya were the product of many man-months of detailed work in which techniques were devised, tested and often dropped or radically revised because they were found to be too complex or otherwise inappropriate for use in that particular context.

The planning agency responsible for developing the prototypes should first try them out on a trial pilot basis.

After their introduction on a pilot project, the suitability of the proposed procedures should be continuously monitored and evaluated in collaboration with the staff who are required to apply them, and subsequent modifications should be made before a "master system" is produced. The process of testing and adaptation will then need to be repeated on other projects within the same region.

In the case of water distribution procedures, it is most important that alternative methods should be tried out under normal project conditions and not as part of an artificial research experiment.

Once comprehensive management systems are in existence, it is the task of the project manager to check on the continued appropriateness of procedures, job descriptions, etc., from time to time, and to recommend any necessary changes.

4.5 Personnel training

4.5.1 Conditions for success: Improved career and promotion prospects

Like the reform of management systems, the development of training programmes is a relatively uncontroversial issue and it can usually be brought about within a fairly short space of time.

There is likely to be a particular need for senior officials to receive technical in-service training in those countries where the engineers in charge of irrigation O&M are not water management specialists. The main object of the course should be to educate them in the agricultural aspects of their work and to introduce them to the potential complexities of alternative water distribution techniques. On the agricultural side, there is frequently a scarcity of senior water management specialists. This could also be rectified by appropriate training programmes. Many senior officials could also be expected to welcome an inclusion in their technical programmes of a further element of general management training.

In the case of junior staff, much of the most useful training can be provided on the job. Training of this kind can be incorporated into the project's basic management procedures. However, there are two areas in particular for which some special in-service training may be required: the extension of advice on watercourse management, and field-level water management extension.

4.5.1 Conditions for success: Improved career and promotion prospects

Certain important conditions need to be met if such training programmes are to have a significant and lasting effect. Where there are plans to introduce training programmes which will have the effect of greatly expanding the number of specialists in a certain field (e.g. water distribution or watercourse management), it is essential that decisions should already have been taken to change existing administrative structures in such a way as to accommodate the new trainees and to provide them with attractive career prospects. Otherwise, the trainees concerned will have little incentive to acquire their new qualifications.

Another important point, particularly relevant in the case of junior field staff, is that the effectiveness of training may often be severely limited unless its provision is linked to some prospects of promotion. One of the consequences of a good training programme will be to raise the trainee's capabilities to a level which makes him ambitious to undertake more challenging work. If he has no promotion prospects, the long-term effect may merely be to make him more dissatisfied with his position and consequently lower his morale and motivation instead of raising them.

This can often be a particularly serious problem in the case of junior staff concerned with water distribution. Since they are frequently under heavy pressure to misallocate water and to make themselves unpopular if they resist such pressures, they require a more than usually powerful reward and penalty system to encourage them to perform well. Where salaries are low and there is little scope for increased finance to raise them, it is extremely difficult for senior officials to achieve good results through the exaction of penalties alone. A combination of training with better prospects of promotion on merit seems likely to be the only measure capable of producing significant improvement in motivation under such conditions. This implies that, although the necessary reforms in policy may not always be easy to introduce, particularly high priority should be given to the introduction of flexible regulations with regard to promotion.

4.6 Water charges and their effect on the quality of management

The point has already been made that one of the great advantages which an irrigation association has over a public irrigation scheme wholly dependent on government revenue is that it tends to provide farmers with a greater incentive to pay the water charges and therefore the total revenue is normally higher. This in turn provides project staff with an increased incentive to give the farmers improved services. The basic reason for this lies in the different way in which the two organizations are paid.

In the case of the Irrigation Associations a substantial proportion of the recurrent budget comes from members' fees or water charges. As a result, the IAs management and staff are made directly accountable to their clients and are put under pressure to provide them with a good service. If they do not, fees will be more difficult to collect, total revenue will decline and cuts will have to be made in staff numbers and salaries. On the other hand, if they provide good service, fee recoveries are likely to be high (since farmer members recognize that high levels of payment will increase the likelihood of good service in the future) and management will be able to reward itself and its staff members with bonuses as well as having additional funds for reinvestment. There, is thus a series of self-sustaining links (client satisfaction -higher fee payment - higher rewards to staff - good service - client satisfaction) which not only tends to encourage good staff motivation but also to provide the project with sufficient revenue.

On government-run projects, by contrast, there is usually no direct link between the level of performance a project organization achieves and its financial rewards. The amount of funds it receives from government is determined first by the total availability of funds for recurrent expenditure within the irrigation and agriculture sectors and then by reference to "yardsticks" which reflect the government's view as to the relative operation and maintenance needs of different projects. The quality of the project's performance, either in terms of increased agricultural production or in its recovery of revenue through water charges or other forms of taxation, is not a criterion of how much finance it receives. Such a system removes any incentive for farmers to pay their water charges, since the proceeds go to general revenue and have no direct effect on the level of local reinvestment. There is similarly no material incentive to management and staff to improve their service to farmers since it will not lead to any increase in their financial rewards. Further side-effects of this policy are a hardening of farmers' resolution to oppose attempts to raise water charges; a reluctance to pay water charges and other taxes, even at the very low rates often prevailing; and a consequent need for revenue-collecting staff to be more coercive in their relations with farmers.

There is little doubt that the performance of many irrigation project organizations could be significantly improved if ways could be found to introduce some degree of competitiveness among projects in place of the conveniently inflexible methods of budget allocation. Even very modest changes in current practice could be helpful and it is suggested that governments contemplating other measures for improving irrigation management performance might consider several possibilities, perhaps on an experimental basis in the first instance..

Any of the possible measures would involve the need to establish significant indicators of performance against which financial increments could be earned. These might be based on increments of levels of production and/or equity of water distribution or preferably on levels of recovery of water charges. The government could then provide each project with an annual payment consisting of two elements: a flat-rate grant, which would take into account the particular characteristics and needs of the project area concerned, and a variable bonus whose level would depend on the project's performance in the previous year. Alternatively, each project might be allowed to retain a certain percentage of the revenue it had raised in accordance with its performance, to which the flat-rate grant could be added. Some of the bonus could be earmarked for reinvestment, some for local increments in staff salaries.

An alternative measure would be to limit the government assistance to the salaries of the civil servants, but any other service or expenditure should be covered by the water fees paid by the farmers. The funds collected would be used directly by the irrigation scheme to provide the necessary services. This method would need a suitable auditing system.

Such strategies could be expected to be attractive to project managers, staff and farmers. Moreover, they should also lead to substantial benefits to governments if (as might be expected) project managers begin to press for higher rates for water charges and farmers themselves begin to see that such a policy could have its advantages. This would help to overcome two of the most intractable problems of management on many publicly-operated irrigation projects at present: staff motivation and shortage of recurrent investment funds.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page