Four basic keys to be better project manager

Talk about light rail transits (LRTs), monorails or even airport projects, and Raja Kuppuswamy’s eyes will light up. 

He is not just passionate about them but believes he must impart the knowledge that he has gained as project consultant to aspiring engineers and entrepreneurs. 

Resulting from his long experience in project management, Raja has helped create four basic processes that would ensure the success of a project. 

“They are the initiation, planning, monitoring and delivery processes. With thorough checks and balances at each stage, defects are minimised in the system delivery process,” he said  

“It is part of the very stringent ICE (Integrated ICE Project Management) model that I developed and implemented for the KL Monorail project,” he claims. 

Raja is a senior consultant employed by KLIA Consultancy Services, in the capacity of an independent consulting engineer of the KL Monorail project which is under the purview of the financier, Bank Pembangunan & Infrastruktur Malaysia Bhd. 

His father, a Tamil schoolteacher, made sure that all his seven children went to English language schools. 

But Raja’s ambition was really to be a police officer. He did end up at the Dusun Tua Training Academy after completing his Form 3 to do a six-month boot camp training in the hope that he would get admitted to do police training. 

But his parents did not share his view and instead wanted him to be an engineer. So after the six months of training, he stayed on at Dusan Tua to do a course in construction. That lasted two years and after that, he joined the Federal Institute of Technology (FIT) in Cheras, where he obtained a diploma in civil engineering. 

Eaja Kuppuswamy

Upon completion of his studies, he left for the US to pursue further studies.  

Raja has a masters degree in construction and project management from the Colorado State University in the US.  

He also has a degree in industrial construction management from the same university, and an associate of applied science degree in construction engineering management from Lincolns College in Nebraska.  

He was in the US for 10 years from 1984 to 1994. 

Being armed with four different types of qualifications did not guarantee him a job there. That was a real sore point in his life. After being jobless for a year, he decided to work for free at Aspen Custom Homes to build houses. 

That did not last long before he got an offer to be project engineer for Concourse ‘C’ at Denver International Airport, which was constructed in the early 1990s. 

After a stint in Denver, he decided to return to Malaysia. It did not take long for him to get himself involved in the KL International Airport development. He was appointed planning engineering manager with renowned US airport engineering firm URS Greiner, but his job task was one of the most challenging.  

Raja had to coordinate all the construction and civil engineering works, including systems installation activities. That means dealing with over 100 contractors to schedule and interface the management of construction activities. 

Later in 1999, when the KL Monorail project was conceptualised, he was involved in it and admitted he did not have much knowledge of the rail industry.  

The KL Monorail passing the Pekeliling Flats in Kuala Lumpur.

It was something new to him, but he took it in his stride to learn everything he could from books, journals to colleagues and foreign contractors. 

It is also here that he helped developed the ICE concept which he implemented at the monorail project. 

“The idea is to develop a new model based on designs , and that involves re-engineering, manufacture of trains to installation of systems, which we can now truly call a Malaysian model,” he said, adding that the initial days were most trying when getting the right design was critical. 

“In the contract industry, the practice of proper management of projects is critical to ensure timely and quality delivery, otherwise, the level of glitches can be massive and the rectification can be time consuming and costly.”  

Over the years, Raja has also realised that the ability to communicate at all levels and quick decision-making are critical skills for a project manager.  

That is why he is now lecturing SMI and SME entrepreneurs and college students via a non-governmental organisation (NGO), The Selangor Indian Entrepreneurs (SIE), in Kuala Langat in Banting. 

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