Project: An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim. (Ref: www.oxforddictionaries.com )
Projects are part of every day life in a business and are not only limited to large discrete initiatives. What I mean by this is that many associate projects with what a company produces. For example, ABC Lock Company has a project to deliver a new waterproof lock range. However, if we are to look at all of the activities that are undertaken with a company, it will be clear that there are many projects taking place simultaneously; whether they are Product Improvement Initiatives, Product Change Management, Health & Safety Initiatives, IT infrastructure, Process Improvement, Marketing Communications and so on.
Despite all of these project activities taking place, why is it that in many cases, the outcomes never seem to be achieved?
Do your projects seem to yield the following results?
• Constant change in direction
• Unclear financial outcome
• Costly and late changes
• The end result is ok (…just) but far from stellar
• Lack lustre staff commitment
• Information overload but nothing seems to get done on time
• Post launch issues and costly fixes
• Slow take up post launch
There is reason why the above outcomes and I am sure many other similar related aspects of under performance occurs. Projects deliver at best mediocre results because of the capability of those involved and the culture of the business.
In order for projects to be successful, it is imperative for the following to take place regardless the size of the initiative and the type of organisation.
- Clear and unambiguous project scope. If there are some grey areas, then a set of assumptions need to be formulated.
- A project budget which is developed based on the project scope. This needs to include:
Marketing....and so on.
- Approved resources and a defined Project Team with nominated team leader so that staff understand their responsibility and will be accountable for their actions.
- Structured and regular project team meetings with minutes that talk to the activities, timing and responsibilities as a minimum.
- Structure and regular project reviews to take stock of where the project is, highlight issues and roadblocks and have executive decisions made.
- A process to ensure all relevant business functions are synchronised with the project requirements.
- A robust development plan to ensure project objectives are being considered and that risks are managed or eliminated.
In other words, for a project to be successful it needs three key elements:
1. Scope and Objectives
2. Robust Processes
3. Competent and disciplined People
I have many examples of good and not so good projects and their success or lack of success in term of delivering a positive and valuable outcome and they all hinge on the above three key elements. Poor project management and project delivery exists in For-Profit and also in NFP sectors.
The following examples of poor project management will help highly my points and may seem familiar?
Example 1: Market Leading Consumer Goods Company
I know of a consumer goods company who was the market leader in its industry and experienced double digit growth for about 6 or 7 years but is an example of one of the poorest overall project capable companies that I know of.
Well there are many reasons; a poor organisational culture, lack of capability development over time, ambiguous lines of accountability, questionable talent pool, over inflated egos, trust issues, all of which contribute towards the company failing on all three elements above.
1. Scope and Objectives:
Project scopes were very ambiguous, in the sense that the numbers were extremely optimistic and were unsubstantiated without any research and market data. Almost no collaboration with inter-department functions to ensure an accurate and clear understanding of internal costs, capital requirements, COG’s often resulting in unachievable targets across LPP, MPP and HPP segments.
➜ Over use of the [Control] [C] and [Control] [V] functions with no fact or research to support or validate requirements. No ROI and market analysis to support budgets.
2. Robust Processes:
There is no structured approach to project management. Every activities seems to be ad-hoc and everything is a "fast tracked" or "speed to market" project. It was believed that having a Project Management Systems and NPD framework was too bureaucratic. But in-fact it was resisted because many in this company just simply did not want to be held accountable for anything. Therefore, there was no overall project management system or NPD framework to drive, check and communicate the project requirements, status and achievements. Because of this, there was no opportunity for continuous improvement and hence no opportunities for any “Lessons Learned”.
➜ No clear lines of communication. Too many corridor conversations, no documented decision making. This resulted in a lot of wasted time covering old ground every time a meeting was held.
3. Competent and disciplined People:
There was one person designated to be the project management expert….who went of some form of MS project training to learn the software and then “BANG” considered themselves as the project manager expert in the company. The result was, this person would sit in their office by them self and create a timing chart ( or gantt chart), save to pdf and then email it out to the company with a comment along the lines of “ please find attached the timing plan for project XXX. Review and let me know if there are any issues”.
As you can imaging, this approach is hardly the most robust method to solicit input and no one ever read those gantt charts. They never read them for two main reasons: 1. Not many people understood how to read a gantt chart 2. It’s not a very engaging method and it was assumed that given the project manager wrote it, then it must be ok.
The project team have a lot to answer to also. It was made up of a cross functional team, with senior people who should have known better but in many instances chose to leave it to someone else to do. There was no sense of urgency or responsibility to ensure assigned tasks were conducted and followed up.
➜ As you can see, this approach just oozes team work, transparency, accountability, engagement and trust…Or maybe not!
Example 2: Service Provider
There is an NFP I know which had a project to engage industry with the aim to be a focal point for opportunity and growth but instead focused on delivering a handful of industry events and a membership drive.
This initiative had an assigned project manager who was "qualified" and had experience in organising events (venue, AV equipment and catering etc) but in reality no significant depth of knowledge to deal with complex operational projects, which is what this initiative needed.
In terms of the three elements, they failed to be achieved in the following ways:
1. Scope and Objectives:
Given this was a public project, there definitely was a very very detailed scope document, which unfortunately didn’t say much and was extremely contradictory with aligning the objectives and deliverables. Despite this, there were “hurdles” which needed to be jumped and boxes which needed to be ticked as part of the reporting. However, the contents of the document or scope was misaligned to the actual needs of the project. This was highlighted to the project manager and acknowledged to be the case very early, even before project work commenced, but no action was taken by the project manger back to the stakeholders to open dialog and try to re-align the scope with what was actually needed.
➜ The absence of a clear objective and resistance to address this, meant that answers were made to fit the questions instead of ensuring the questions were relevant to the needs of the project. In short an mis-use of public money.
2. Robust Processes:
Processes, tools and framework were non existent at all within this Service Provider. Everything associated with this project was tied back to the scope document ( which someone else wrote ) and the approach was very “tunnel vision” in terms of what needed to be done.
There was no strategy or vision resulting in the project heading in a direction which was going to struggle to deliver a robust outcome or any value to the intended target audience (ie the industry). Aside from the mandatory and calendarised reporting requirement, there was no project management framework or governance, resulting and a chaotic, undermining and mediocre at best approach.
➜ There were no processes other than the need to submit reports in accordance with the funding requirements ( outlined in the scope document ).
3. Competent and disciplined People:
Despite the capability of the project manager in terms of project management 101, this individual was disciplined with respect to adhering to the project scope document and the reporting required as part of the funding. However, the discipline was in the context of exercising these actions because that is what needed to be done. Therefore, focusing more on the reporting out and answering the project plan questions rather than focusing on delivering a high quality outcome with the funding allocated.
Leadership, team engagement, expertise, clarity and trust were all essential traits the PM struggled with. Face to Face meetings quickly disappeared, phone discussions stopped shortly after and correspondence with the team primarily took place via email. Five minute conversations were replaced with long winded internal email chains with interrogation like behaviour, consuming over 10x more time per topic to communicate because the PM had difficulty comprehending the information provided.This lack of project management competence and discipline extended to inappropriate ethical behaviour when it was discovered by a team member that their email account was being accessed and reviewed without consent.
➜ This begs the following questions:
What is the point in being great at reporting, if the actual report does not say much?
Why is it underestimated the importance of having good leadership?
Why is it that some people who have higher levels of responsibility feel they can also have double standards when it comes to respect, integrity and behaviour towards others?
This example shows how some projects exists because they are funded to exists but don’t add any value to the stakeholders or the intended target audience/client. If they are not "shovel ready" then questions must be asked as to why they should go ahead!
The above two examples are designed to show that regardless of whether an organisation is the Market Leader or Not, a For-Profit or Not, and Manufacturer or a Service Provider, achieving project excellences requires good grounding in terms of scope and objectives, the proper vehicle in terms of robust processes and the right skilled people to make it happen.
Complacency and mediocrity seems to be the norm and quite often prevails over excellence because it is the easy way out. I have been in organisations which operated with an excellence and continuous improvement approach and I have also been in organisations which settle for mediocrity. It is not out of anyones reach to achieve excellence, but it does take discipline and does need an environment which encourages this. The irony is that in many cases, the easy road is taken because it apparently, it is easy. However, what is not being considered is the negative impact that poorly executed projects have on the long term health of a company; its people, reputation and sustainability.
The Wrap Up.
Projects don’t just happen without any active participation and this is why in many cases, projects within organisations never seem to deliver. As explored above in the examples, this can be due to not commencing the project with a good foundation with a well defined scope and objectives. However as also highlighted, project execution is highly dependant on then having the vehicle to deliver (that is, to have robust processes) and of course lastly but not least, capable drivers ( competent and disciplined people).
If we take into consideration the opening definition of what a project is, then it is clear that in order for the enterprise to be carefully planned to achieve a particular objective, the three elements outline here are key to its success.
If the above sounds familiar and you want to make a change to strive for project excellence so that you can optimise your resources to deliver effective project results, contact me at ANBA Solutions.
What do you think?
Director - ANBA Pty Ltd
Andrew Baldacchino, applies his years of industry experience and world class practises in simple, logical and effective ways to help businesses and their people to develop innovative solutions and implement strategies to improve sustainability and brand value in the market place.