Until recently projects conjured up a vision of huge civil engineering works lasting years. They tend to get all the publicity especially when they are successful (on time, on budget and they work) e.g. the 2012 Olympics, Heathrow Terminal 5 etc.
But in the recent “Times” Raconteur feature we learned that there are now more “fuzzy” projects than physical ones on the go at any one time.
From other research it seems that over 70% of projects fail to deliver on time or on budget. Many of the “fuzzy” projects don’t even deliver the end result that was intended.
“Fuzzy” projects include such things as technology systems, organisational change, process change, some HR activity etc.
When organisations embark on these ventures (often at great cost e.g. the recent NHS and BBC IT debacles) what are they looking for?
The “Times” suggests that it includes: -
Security/comfort in the knowledge that it will work
Proof that it is working and ultimately has worked
That it will improve business performance – and this can be quantified
That it will be delivered on time, on budget and contribute to the wider success of the business
You would have thought that these were not unreasonable ambitions so why do so many not live up to expectations?
The “Times” suggests that the answer lies in “Keeping the eye on the prize – stay flexible while sticking to the important original goals”.
Obvious it may sound, but project managers suffer distractions and projects go off track.
For example our own research with PPM (Professional Project Management) shows that the most frequent and difficult problems during projects are relationships and people related – keeping all parties on side, preventing dissent; stakeholder relations, communications, project member issues etc. Yet Project Managers spend more than half their time dealing with technical/task issues. They may be more comfortable with these but that de-rails projects.
The “Times” also infers that projects get off track due to set-backs and scares. Our research indicates that it is because few organisations have appropriate or effective monitoring and tracking systems. Conventional management information systems are not responsive enough nor focused. Conventional project management reporting (PERT charts, EVM etc) are too cumbersome and not well enough understood by many who now find themselves managing projects (i.e. not necessarily the conventional project manager). These projects are often shorter in length but maybe just as complicated and with the same stakeholder issues.
It is vital that there is a clear direction and vision for any project so that any change (specification changes during the life of the project is common place) can be accommodated with the minimum disruption. Clarity is also crucial to engaging the organisation and the people within it. Keeping them on board with what is happening helps them feel part of the process.
The Verax PIMS methodology ensures absolute clarity of purpose and direction of any project, “fuzzy” or otherwise. It is flexible and provides real time information about the progress of the project, causes of any over or under budget/plan situations, a means of communicating with interested parties, stakeholders etc and calculates a financial ROI for the project to date and at the end, so demonstrating the benefits to the organisation overall.
PIMS has successfully delivered (on time, on budget, satisfied stakeholders) IT and Organisational Change projects in UK and Europe, Civil Engineering projects in Ireland and the Middle East.
Enabling more projects to come in on time, keeping stakeholders satisfied is not necessarily easy. But it can be made easier if better information systems are used. Then project managers can see the moment things start to go wrong and why. Communication and dealing with the people and relationship issues is critical. Devoting more time to this aspect of project management will pay dividends.