Are your projects delivering as well as you predicted?

Why do projects go wrong?

In a report in 2016, the National Audit Office (NAO) rated a third of upcoming major government projects as in doubt or unachievable unless action is taken to improve delivery.

They highlighted a number of key recurring issues including an absence of portfolio management at both departmental and government level, lack of clear, consistent data with which to measure performance, poor early planning, lack of capacity and capability to undertake a growing number of projects and a lack of clear accountability for leadership of a project

Early warning signs of project failure include:

  • lack of senior management support and commitment to the project;
  • undefined project success criteria;
  • projects without business justification;
  • no project management method;
  • ignoring early project delays; and
  • lack of proper skills within the project management team.

When public sector projects go wrong, we tend to hear about them. The private sector suffers the same issues and success rates; they are no better than the public sector but we tend to hear less about their project failures.

How can you improve the delivery of your projects?

For consistent and successful project delivery, organisations require a mix of behavioural, technical and contextual competencies across all levels. At RSM, we refer to this as the landscape for successful projects which is illustrated by the table below:

Are your projects delivering as well as you predicted?

This means that:

  • behavioural competencies need to include inter-personal skills, team dynamics and adapting to the organisation’s culture;
  • technical competencies require supporting frameworks, methods and techniques; and
  • contextual competencies include domain expertise, lifecycle models and strategic planning.

A good starting point to establish consistency is by having a project delivery method for your organisation. There are a number of project management standards that can help you develop an approach which works for you, a number of best practice methods (such as PRINCE2) and a number of bodies of knowledge. PRINCE2 is the world’s most practised method for project management, used by organisations of every size in every sector. RSM has provided one of three authors for the 2017 update with its release due later this year. Whichever method you choose will need to be supported by a competency development framework to ensure the right people are in the right roles and have the right skills to perform.

How can you measure success?

Defining measures of success for projects in terms of performance and value is relatively straightforward. Organisations will typically define measures in terms of finance (such as return on investment or earned value), the customer (such as customer satisfaction or retention), processes (such as scope changes or rework) and people (such as employee satisfaction or motivation).

However, to measure the landscape for successful projects as a whole, measures should also focus on the organisation itself: 

for measuring individual performance, the organisation should consider competency assessments using a framework such as the Association of Project Management’s Competence Framework which will facilitate an assessment of an individual based upon their knowledge and experience; and

for measuring the organisation’s capability to deliver projects, organisations should consider maturity models such as the Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model (P3M3) which allows identification of areas where an organisation can most effectively increase its project capability and allows improvement plans to be put in place.

Measuring success brings a number of benefits to organisations including:

  • continuous improvement with realistic goals leading to increased efficiencies and effectiveness;
  • certainty of delivery of an organisation’s portfolio in terms of time, cost, quality etc;
  • more accurate performance and value data leading to better transparency and increased stakeholder confidence; and
  • improved portfolio decision making by comparing the value and deliverability of like-for-like projects.

Act today; shape tomorrow.

For further information on how RSM can help you with your projects and programmes or on the Prince2 2017 update which Nigel recently authored, please contact Nigel Bennett.