Frequently we encounter situations where projects are being run by haggard looking, often inexperienced operational staff. Generally these projects are characterised by weak scope definition, hastily put together budgets, frenetic activity, a lack of control, ‘fire-fighting’ of issues and poor morale. On top of this the poor staff member has to run his day job too!
Understandably, one of the initial thoughts when considering delivering a project is minimising the ‘apparent’ cost, therefore it seems to make sense to appoint an employee, who understands the processes and their organisation to lead the project. Using internal subject matter experts to aid successful project delivery has many merits but problems often result when they are actually asked to lead projects. These issues are invariably caused by a lack of time and knowledge about project management.
Looking at the time element of the problem, the appointed employee is often asked to look after the project with insufficient thought given to the workload this places on that individual. As we know, it is not usual to have a valued employee that is only partially utilised; they are generally engaged and fully utilised. What then is the result of asking them to fit in the management of a project…? The answer is either: a) their day job suffers, b) the project suffers or c) both assignments suffer.
With regard to the appointed employee having the necessary skills, it is often said that ‘project management is mostly about common sense, right?’, this assumption is only partially correct. Common sense is an important facet but not enough on its own. Project management involves defined, inter-related processes to understand scope, cost, time and risk. Failure to understand fully any of these elements when preparing and delivering a project normally leads to unforeseen scope problems, or overruns on cost or time. These issues often have major consequences that tend to escalate the longer they are left unchecked.
Good communication and interpersonal skills are also skills that should not be underestimated in delivering successful projects. In our experience, building good relationships and effective communication are key to ensuring all elements of a project are fully defined and considered, and also is vital for cultivating project ownership.
We were recently asked to assist with an ongoing project that had run in to difficulties. The client had decided to appoint an employee to lead a project to modify one of their production lines for the delivery of a new product. On investigation, the first issues we came across were differences in opinion on the required specifications of the new process, with site engineering and operations having significantly differing views and it was apparent this was causing angst within the team. These specifications were also poorly documented which had led to integration compromises. Issues were also identified in the respective implementation plans of the suppliers involved and also no evident risk management plan existed. As a result of the issues listed, morale was very low and the project cost and schedule were out of control.
Ultimately the project was redefined and implemented with our help but not without consequences. Unfortunately this is not an unusual situation. For the purpose of illustration please see below a cost analysis of this project.
- Project capital cost ≈ £18m
- Proportion of capital cost for originally planned implementation ≈ £1.8m (10%)
- Increased cost of implementation ≈ £0.9m (5%)
The cost of the project overruns, whilst significant were the least of the additional costs. Lost production through late delivery and poor training, commissioning and validation processes were far more significant.
The next time you have a major project, consider the burden you are putting on to an employee who is full time employed doing his “day” job and the consequences this will lead to.
Prime Design are specialists in the field of project management and are available to either lead your projects or mentor your internal resources. If we can help you please get in touch.