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No wonder projects crash

What is it that so often causes projects to fail to achieve their goals?

From crashing completely and becoming a mess of unresolved issues, to missing the mark by not delivering what they were supposed to deliver and/or at a much higher cost than anticipated.

I talk many times about clarity. Clarity in language, clarity in our decisions, clarity in WHAT we are going to do in our processes and our projects. Clarity is apparently (!) not something that comes easily, and frankly not always so desirable. This is because you can hide in obscurity. You don’t have to take responsibility and you can always get away with it.

In the project world, it is not uncommon to find it very difficult to make the project ownership role work.

On the one hand, the delegation system requires decisions to be taken higher up, if not at the top, in the organisation. On the other hand, we want projects to deliver on time and on budget, through quick and accurate decisions by those with knowledge of the project.

Take infrastructure projects, for example, as a rule they cost quite a lot of money.

Say that the delegation rules indicate that spending at these levels must be taken by the municipal or corporate board. Remember that during the implementation of a project, decisions need to be made on an ongoing basis at its decision points, and perhaps even beyond. There will easily be 10-15 such decisions in a project.

Consider further that there are 50 such projects rolling all the time in the business, which is not at all taking in too much.

This means that the Board has to make decisions on possible delays with additional costs at all times. And all this in addition to the “usual” issues of a more long-term nature. This means that the CEO, the municipal manager, the board, etc., are completely burdened with questions that they firstly do not have detailed knowledge of and therefore cannot make an informed decision, and secondly cannot make as quick a decision as is needed.

This causes projects to drag on and, due to bureaucratic decision-making, results in additional costs for the projects as decisions are not made quickly and accurately.

Really big projects become so overwhelming over time that no one holds it all together. Clarity has completely disappeared and it is not possible to deduce who took which decision and why. The project leader changes several times during the project. The project owner is unclearly appointed, and if decisions are constantly referred to, for example, the municipal council, then even they have been replaced during the project.

No one is responsible and no one can be held accountable.

From my experience, it is better to make framework decisions on financial resources for a number of projects over a given period of time. Then make sure you have confidence in those who play both the role of project owner and project manager, that they are actually doing their job.

Of course, control must be done. But without confidence that the employees playing these roles can actually do their jobs, you create a culture of mistrust on the one hand and “it’s not my decision” on the other.

Allocating funds on the basis of being presented with a project portfolio, which then provides a framework over time, creates an accountability with the associated authority to also be able to make the right decisions, at the right time and when needed, with detailed knowledge.

How does it look in your business, do you have top management of your projects or do you have framework decisions? How do your projects work, and do you recognise yourself in my description?