Managing Hajj: A case for project management

Hajj is an endeavour with magnitude and complexities that require professional handling. Nigerian Hajj managers learnt on the job by trial and error with most of them at the federal and state levels being career civil servants. The success of Hajj usually depends on the dedication and experience of Hajj managers. This means that whenever transition occurs, more often than not, the new managers begin the job afresh with little or no documents, processes or procedures – what professional project managers call Institutional Process Assets.

There is, therefore, the need to develop a system of managing Hajj that will contain the techniques, tools and processes to be utilised by Hajj Managers. This will be part of an elaborate Hajj management system that will be put in place to serve as a guide to all Hajj managers (old and new).

 Anyone who has watched an Olympics tournament, seen or visited the Dubai Palm Jumeirah or witnessed the first Landing of man on the Moon will marvel at how such complex endeavours with numerous actors, moving parts and active participants were successfully pulled off with seeming seamlessness. The fact is that all three are demonstrations of well managed endeavours which had pre-determined outcomes laid down techniques and established protocol popularly referred to as Project Management.

Project Management or PM has been defined as the systematic application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to achieve pre-determined deliverables. It is now an internationally recognised profession with elaborate principles of practice, certification, training and Global membership under the Project Management Institute (PMI) with headquarters in Pennsylvania, USA. PM seeks to ensure quality and timely delivery on projects, while maintaining the highest possible degree of openness, consistency and due process guided by a code of ethics and professional conduct.

The focus of this article, however, is on PM which, in my opinion, is more relevant to the needs of the Hajj and Umrah industry… at the moment. Old and new Hajj Managers are most often faced with the dilemma of how to handle the many moving parts of Hajj, especially when mass movement of pilgrims commences. Sleepless nights, haphazard arrangements, impromptu changes, meddling by some powerful stakeholders and likes are avoidable hallmarks of an exercise that could have been managed more efficiently. This is where the Project Management System comes in.

The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), State Pilgrims Welfare Boards, Agencies and Commissions (SPWB/A/Cs) and private Travel agencies are responsible for Hajj arrangements on an annual basis. They need to agree on the framework for the Hajj exercise of every season in terms of the number of pilgrims and how to manage them. Fares need to be worked out based facilities and services pilgrims will require; service providers need to be appointed and contracts need to be signed. Visas will be secured, pilgrims moved out of, accommodated, fed, taken care of and returned to Nigeria. After the exercise is over, tons of information is generated consisting of figures, pictures and written narratives of how the exercise was conducted.

These pieces of information are valuable inputs towards future exercises for both returning and new Hajj managers if and only if they are systematically collated and documented. Hajj Managers need to know what worked and what did not; they need to know how efficiently they utilised resources. Without already established Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such information is difficult to come by. The Project Management System is designed to define and seek to meet organisational objectives, (in this case, successful Hajj operations), resource and time requirements ab-initio. It identifies stakeholders and determines how, when, and to what extent they need to be engaged throughout the exercise; it provides a clear sequence of activities, with associated costs, deadlines and deliverables. It spells out the workflow and work breakdown structure to indicate who is responsible for what part of the exercise and at what point.

It identifies potential risks and methods of mitigating problems should they occur. It also provides an agreed framework for dealing with changes that occur and keeps in check, the constraints of time, resources, scope, quality and cost. Finally, it logs activities as the project unfolds and documents lessons learnt for use in future exercises. In essence, a Hajj exercise managed the PM way is expected to eliminate cost overruns, missed deadlines, rework (a PM term for repeating the same activity unnecessarily), loss of stakeholder confidence, loss or reputation, unsatisfied pilgrims and worst of all, failure to achieve project objectives.

It is my belief and prayer that NAHCON, SPWB/A/Cs and Travel Agencies adopt the PM approach in Managing Hajj as a matter of policy. This should then be closely followed by the training of those involved in Managing Hajj at all levels. PMI has an elaborate system of training and certification which enables interested persons to become certified Project Management Professionals (PMP). One interesting fact I have learnt about PMP certification is that unlike normal academic qualifications which give a holder ‘life entitlement’ just because he or she has a certificate, PMI ensures that every PMP is in a constant process of managing projects, improving their skills and technical competence in their respective fields by attending seminars, training and PM events to keep abreast of trends. A certified PMP is expected to keep his certification ‘alive’ through continuous professional development in PM and his/her area of expertise.

A PMP is expected to earn a minimum of 60 PDUs (Professional Development Units) within a three-year cycle to maintain a PMP certification. Because Rome was not built in a day, the adoption of PM as a policy in the Nigeria Hajj and Umrah industry may take a while. It is my sincere hope that NAHCON takes this leap of faith that is poised to not only professionalise Hajj Management but deliver on the key mandate of “providing efficient and effective services to the pilgrims.”

Jae writes from Abuja

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