There are many projects that are successfully implemented. Unfortunately, too many projects fail to meet their business objectives and require companies to take a negative financial hit. A failed project can also hurt their brand or business reputation.
There are many circumstances that contribute to the failure of a project
The reasons why projects fail are numerous, however, the reasons can generally be placed into four categories:
- Readiness of the Technology to be Implemented
- Market Dynamics and Product Acceptance
- Project Processes
- Facility Operability
I’ve underlinedProject Processes because, in my experience, if your company has robust project management processes that are supported, continuously improved, and adhered to, then the appropriate project due diligence and implementation steps will prove to be a reliable roadmap to a successful outcome. Getting guidance from a good process will create consistent behaviors that allow the right things to be done at the right time within the other three categories mentioned above.
A robust project process will ensure that technology selection and the business analysis associated with a project are appropriately vetted. It will also have the necessary design checks in place to be certain the design is sound and accurate and aligned with the desired operability parameters. A good project process should not be an onerous collection of mandates but rather a recipe of tried-and-true components and experience-based guidance. The process should prove to be a competitive advantage when followed and also be useful to seasoned project veterans as well as those who are new to the profession.
There was a time, I recall, when a company I worked for was doing a number of acquisitions. In one circumstance, we acquired a company when we were about to start the design phase for a new high tech and high complexity facility. We didn't really have the time to align the project processes of both companies and come up with an updated and improved joint project process. Since the incoming company had a lot of experience with many of the unit operations that were slated for the new facility, it was decided to use their project process and have them lead the design and construction phases of the effort.
When we discussed the implementation plan with the incoming company's engineering leadership team, I recall the head of the group saying, "Just give us the objective and the design basis and we'll get the job done." The person went on to say, "The project management process we use, is similar to heading off on a road trip. Those who are going, just get in the car with a summary map of the area showing where they are and where they need to go and they simply drive off and figure the rest out over the course of the journey. We just wing it."
To many who heard the analogy, this sounded like an expedient process that didn't require a lot of rigorous checks and balances. Their process seemed to be a refreshing departure from the methodologies our company followed to conceive, design and build many world-class facilities. After hearing more stories of their project escapades, the collective hopes were high. Our business leadership team thought we would be able to break project speed records and significantly lower the benchmark costs for similar facilities. It all sounded really good, however, four words kept popping into my mind upon hearing the analogy of their project process ... "we just wing it."
Nevertheless, because they had success building similar facilities, I assumed I was over judging it and they must have phenomenal resources who were skilled and very experienced in executing their lean project process. There were no reasons for me to think otherwise and so, I was willing to go along with the plan. If for no other benefit, I thought it would be a great way to compare and contrast the two processes along the journey to see if there were learnings to be obtained and incorporated into our merged project process.
What I learned about their process was certain discrete steps were done faster using their approach, however, there were a lot of wasted efforts, re-work, cost increases and overall slower implementation. Things seemed to move quickly in the detailed design and purchasing phase of the project but slowed down drastically after construction started.In other words, this type of process moved very quickly at the beginning, but errors and mis-steps ate up a lot of time and money to correct. Early in my career, I heard someone say, "if you don't have the time and resources to do the project right the first time, what makes you think that you’ll have the time and resources to correct any mistakes and do the work a second time?"
The process that I was more familiar with, was the opposite. Slower at the beginning of project implementation but faster in the second half and, generally, less costly. Many projects finished on time or ahead of schedule when key project processes were adhered to.
When it comes to building or implementing something that will impact their top or bottom lines, business leaders do not like to hear the word slow. Any process that has a hint of speed will be very enticing. However, a wise person once said "some shortcuts take too long." It's always prudent to make sure you are not jeopardizing an outcome by deciding on an ill-considered shortcut.
Let's go back to the "get in the car with a map" analogy. If you knew you were going to drive into or through an area known frequently to have bad snowstorms, you may check to make sure that you have the right tires on your car. You probably would also pack some emergency provisions and may have even identified places where you can stay overnight, if needed. You would have performed several other preparatory type actions so that you would be able to take care of any potential issues that might crop up along the journey. If you never encountered a snowstorm, your preparation could be viewed as a complete waste of time. If, on the other hand, a snowstorm cropped up and you didn't anticipate such a forecastable event, then instead of safely making it to your destination on time and without any major incidents, you may have skidded off the highway. Worst yet, a resultant accident could have immobilized your car largely because you didn’t take time to notice that you had bad tires before you drove off on the road trip.
Some people don't like to hear the word process when it's attached to another word like business process or project process because it conjures up thoughts of complexity and arduous tasks. For me, a good process is like a good recipe and a good project process is a recipe for achieving more successful project outcomes.
Key elements that you should have in your project process
When we don't have the proper planning or implementation processes, we are simply planting the seeds of failure which will grow fruits of unexpected deleterious circumstances. These circumstances will negatively impact our projects. These fruits I speak of, are simply the risks that were not recognized and planned for and therefore, could not be effectively managed. Risk, in any project, is generally unavoidable. However, with an experientially diverse project team, many risks can be identified and assigned to respective management and mitigation plans.
A good project process will include:
- the selection of the right business, supply chain, sourcing, procurement, technical and engineering resources
- a method for determining the timing to develop sound and vetted business analysis and objectives as well as contingency plans to accommodate business or other assumptions that may not come to fruition
- a process to assure the technology is sound, proven, and ready for deployment and will work as intended.
- a staffing plan that includes formation of a professional project engineering team to lead cost estimating and all phases of the project and assure project plan and cost will meet business objectives and affordability. It should also include plans to staff a commissioning, start-up and operations team
- a resource loaded schedule, spend-out plan and milestone timing dashboard
- a quality assurance plan for applied technology, design, procurement, construction, commissioning, readiness to operate activities, startup, and achievement of beneficial operations
Leaving any of these elements out, will likely reduce your probability of project success. Your first sign of trouble will be observed when key elements are left out and you start to eat up too much time or too much money to make corrections along the project implementation journey. It's, therefore, imperative to make sure that you have allotted enough time and money to achieve all intended objectives.
It's very important to provide realistic timing and spend-out planning when the project is first added to a company’s portfolio of projects. Normally, this is difficult to do and that's why The Brandon Group (TBG) believes that their Early Spend-out Profile andMilestone Estimator (ESPME) can help you to set early expectations around cash flow and key milestones.
Please check it out. We suggest you look at some past projects and input the historical data you have in the tool. You can then see if the tool would have been able to provide a reasonable estimate well before you had details that would be more common in the later phases of a project.
For a limited time, you can get free access to the tool.
This link will take you to a page where you can learn more about the tool and use the tool.
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." --Walt Disney