Driving Performance from the Center: Malaysia's Experience with PEMANDU


Why do many countries that adopt sensible policies to address crime, improve education and have efficient public transport often come up short? The problem often lies in implementation. To address this issue, Malaysia introduced the Performance Management Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) within the Prime Minister’s Department in 2009. As the largest and one of the most prominent delivery units in the world, here’s what many countries can learn from that experience.

What is PEMANDU?

  • PEMANDU means “driver” in Malay – and the unit literally drove the implementation of the government’s priorities contained in the National Transformation Program (NTP).
  • PEMANDU focuses on a limited number of national priorities, aims to improve coordination, and to create incentives for performance at all levels throughout the government.

What made PEMANDU effective?

  • First, the country’s leadership prioritized what it wanted to achieve by defining a limited number of goals. Those priorities had the top leadership’s full commitment and, just as critically, were translated into very granular projects.
  • PEMANDU achieved that by first facilitating cabinet meetings that defined the national key results areas for the National Transformation Program, and then conducting its signature labs.  “Labs” are 6- to 9-week stakeholder workshops that focus on breaking down each priority into concrete projects with responsible ministries, timelines, and key performance indicators (KPIs).  This creates ownership and helps motivate the teams involved. 
  • When it comes to execution, PEMANDU regularly monitors KPIs for these priority projects, some on a weekly basis. If KPIs slip, PEMANDU helps the implementing agencies troubleshoot, and if that doesn’t work, escalates further up the chain -- all the way to the Prime Minister if necessary. These routines create incentives to deliver and resolve any issues at the lowest possible level. 
  • Moreover, PEMANDU’s institutional setup helps attract talent from the private sector. This infuses the public sector with the private sector’s results-oriented culture, speed, and innovation. 
  • Finally, PEMANDU puts much emphasis on communicating the results to the public, both continuously through print, online, and broadcast media, and through its annual report. 

What challenges did PEMANDU face?

The challenges and limitations of PEMANDU’s experience also offer lessons from other countries:

  • KPIs are limited by the quality of the indicators and the data available. You can hit the target but miss the point.
  • Balance private and public sector elements, and avoid having a private sector corporate culture which can create the perception that delivery unit staff are outsiders with limited public sector exposure. 
  • Strengthen impact evaluations. Labs were great as a consultative process to tease out priority projects from strategic priorities, but missed an important element: building in the structure for impact evaluations into the design of these projects that can link outcomes to specific interventions by the delivery unit.