IPMA International Project Management Association
15 February 2017 / 2:33

Projects and project management in Sri Lanka

The name of “Ceylon” may still be more familiar for the island south east of India nowadays being the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Actually, the island´s name changed quite often. It was first called “Tambapanni”, later the Hindu mythology used the expression “Lankā”, in Tamil language the island translates to “Eelam”, the Greek phrased “Taprobanā”, the Persians and Arabs named the island “Sarandīb”, or happy accident. The Portuguese called the island “Ceilão”, which made it finally into English as “Ceylon” and was used until 1972.

This exemplifies already the eventful history of Sri Lanka. The first Sri Lankan ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, Pandukabhaya, reigned already in the 4th century BC  and was later followed by more than 180 rulers in various, often enough opposing kingdoms until the late 16th Century. The rivalry amongst the kings of Sri Lanka made it easy for the Portuguese to arrive at the west coast and control the region around nowadays capital city Colombo. Thus, the King of Kandy invited the Dutch to help defeat the Portuguese, which kicked-off the Dutch Era of Sri Lanka, lasting from 1640 till 1796. During the early 19th Century the island became a part of the British Empire as Crown Colony. The British found that the uplands of Sri Lanka were very suitable for coffee, tea and rubber cultivation and developed a flourishing business. The Sri Lankan independence movement started early 20th Century as peaceful political movement which aimed at achieving independence and self-rule for Sri Lanka, from the British Empire. It finally succeeded and in 1948, Ceylon was granted independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. Dominion status within the British Commonwealth was retained for the next 24 years until May 22, 1972 when it became a republic and was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, a Civil War was started in 1983 by the “Tamil Tigers”, which fought to create an independent Tamil state called “Tamil Eelam” in the north and the east of the island. In 2009, after a 26-year military campaign with an estimated 80,000–100,000 people being killed, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers, bringing the civil war to an end.


The economy of Sri Lanka was originally based on plantation, famous for its production and export of cinnamon, rubber, coffee, sugar and Ceylon tea, which remains a trademark national export. While the production and export of these products and other commodities remain important, industrialization has increased the importance of food processing, textiles, telecommunications and finance. The country’s main economic sectors are tourism, tea export, clothing, rice production and other agricultural products. In addition to these economic sectors, overseas employment, especially in the Middle East, contributes substantially in foreign exchange Sri Lanka has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving extreme poverty and is on track to meet most of the other MDGs, outperforming other South Asian countries. Sri Lanka plans to create a “knowledge based social market economy” and an export-oriented economy as well as the Western Region ”Megapolis” to promote economic growth.

The World Bank is financing projects in the agricultural sector of Sri Lanka. The development objectives are to support increasing agriculture productivity, improving market access, and enhancing value addition of smallholder farmers and agribusinesses in the project areas. Also the Asian Development Bank sponsors a series of projects in regards to infrastructure, energy and water. Three major projects in Colombo are worth to be highlighted, the Colombo Port City Development Project, the Colombo Lotus Tower and the Altair Residential Towers with a fancy design. Other projects are related with energy, transportation, tourism, Tsunami-affected Area Recovery and roads. Many of those projects are funded, staffed and managed by foreign partners, including but not limited to China, India and Japan.

Project management is well developed in some of the key organisations of the country, for example in the telecommunication and IT industry. However, in the public sphere and the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the demand is high for basic education and certification in project management. Since 2004, the Colombo chapter of PMI is active and strives for proliferating know-how to all parts of the country. Master Programmes for Project Management are offered in the IT sector by the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology and in the construction industry by the Colombo School of Construction Technology. In the country there is a great interest to establish a national project management association and building international links through membership with IPMA. The aims are to strengthen the profession by state-of-the-art education and training offerings, tailored to the specific needs of the country, to establish a project culture in government, private industry with special focus on SMEs, to support the social and co-operative projects run all over the country, and finally, to reduce the dependency on foreign organisations in managing major projects for the good of the country.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.