Planning for project success

Shutterstock 1Alfonso Bucero, PMO & PMP for Bucero Consulting, and Erika Gracés, senior communications specialist Hexagon PPM EMIA, discuss the major issues causing projects performance problems – the human factor and the lack of suitable software tools made available to teams

They also discuss how software tools can help project management professionals across different industries to ensure better outcomes and improved productivity.  

Why the struggle?

Project management and project control often happen on an executional level, where companies are executing projects. However, the key for successful project management often lies between differentiating project management and projects portfolio management. This is the key difference between doing a project right and doing the right projects

For successful project and cost control, any company needs to agree upon a higher level what the right projects are. The business objectives (whether financial, regulatory, or otherwise) must be clear and the right projects are the ones that best accomplish these goals. This then needs to be communicated clearly to all stakeholders. Often enough, the planning stage happens separately from the execution of the project, frequently by different people than those who end up actually executing the work. If this planning stage is not controlled, and proper project portfolio management practices are not in place, projects can already start “out of control”, without having the correct resources or funding available. 

In addition to a lack of initial planning, the companies need to take enough time to define what the procedures for progress measurement are and how to track success. If there are no good estimation tools in place from the beginning, tracking success and advancement becomes difficult. If we don’t have a benchmark for success, how do we know when we achieve it?

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, understanding how projects are truly performing is often difficult due to the human factor. Employees need to be trained to have the essential skillset for project management, and transparent communication channels need to be established to ensure that all the stakeholders have access to correct, up-to-date information.

The human factor includes not only the people working on a project, but also the organisational culture and the incentive structure built around projects. If not properly managed and aligned with organisational strategy, the human factor can have a negative effect on projects. It tends to obscure information and delay reporting of issues.

Some of the causes of low predictability and project ineffectiveness are directly attributable to the human factor:

-Insufficient effort or attention

-Inadequate experience and expertise

-Optimism bias

-Poor transparency and accountability

Human factor also plays a role in project communications. Often enough, there is a lack of clarity when it comes to project scope and accountability within a project. If these items are not sufficiently defined and communicated at the planning stage, stakeholders might end up not having a shared understanding of the key responsibilities. Milestones and trigger points for the project tracking need to be established, so that all of the stakeholders know when corrective action needs to be taken. 

Support from enterprise software solutions

While productivity in certain industries (such as manufacturing) has skyrocketed over the past decades, there are others where productivity has declined. Large scale, complex construction projects are a real-life example of this: according to McKinsey & Company, productivity in the construction industry has actually declined since the 1990s. 

Some of the major issues contributing to the construction industry’s continued struggle include: flawed performance management, insufficient risk management and poor short-term planning. 

Especially for the construction industry, the gap between planning and execution can often lead to additional trouble. Often after the initial project planning takes place, most of the physical work gets outsourced to contractors making managing a project manually an endless process of exchanging Excel sheets. A high-level overview of what is happening at the project, and how this will affect the next steps will easily get lost because of this. 

Many organisations, both in the construction industry as well as others, use either manual processes heavily reliant on Excel spreadsheets, or a stand-alone project management software that focuses on scheduling and task management. The challenge with both the manual, and solely project management-focused approach is the lack of overall integration with the other key systems, such as accounting and scheduling. 

When the complexity of the project grows – the more data and more people working in a project, the more difficult manual project management becomes. With no efficient project management tools in place, it is easy for the employees to become overwhelmed with the work they must do, and an extensive amount of time will be spent finding, inputting and maintaining the data, instead of analysing and making decisions based on it. 

Yet, the human factor continues to play a role when talking about the software tools. For any tool to work efficiently, the organisation needs to have the project management principles in place to ensure that a correct tool can be selected and that the employees can be trained sufficiently. It is essential to first:

-Understand and identify the project management processes that are in place, or the lack of them

-Identify the project stakeholders

-Discuss what type of data will be managed, and what type of data and KPI’s will be used for tracking success

Once the above information is in place, the organisation can move forward to identify the right tool for the job. Often enough, especially when it comes to complex, large-scale projects, an enterprise-wide project performance solution can help to bridge the gap between planning and execution. 

So how does this happen?

Technology can help you accurately and consistently measure enterprise project performance. By utilising a software system such as EcoSys, companies can connect planning with execution and establish access to up-to-date, correct project data while ensuring that the employees working on a project will all have access to the latest information. 

An enterprise-wide project management solution delivers value beyond a single project by standardising processes that govern how an organisation operates. This way a company can improve the overall value of the project investments – returns for owners and margins for contractors.  The improvements impact performance of every project in different portfolios, therefore multiplying the impact.  

Utilising an enterprise project performance tool helps to:

-Easily improve visibility to identify project trends and issues in time to take corrective action

-Standardise the way of working to minimise human error throughout the project lifecycle 

-Improve efficiency by reducing the time spent managing and verifying data. 

In other words, with the right tools, planning and project execution can be integrated to ensure that the project teams can achieve their goals for every project, any time.

 

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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