Delivering project success with stronger controls and performance
Delivering project success in the Australian construction industry has become increasingly challenging in recent years. However, by integrating processes, people and systems, organisations can control investments and achieve their desired goals and strategic objectives.
The Australian construction industry has fundamentally changed. Challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt, leading to increased costs, extended timeframes, constrained resources and a slowing down of investment.
Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for organisations to achieve their goals and strategic objectives through projects and programmes. However, many leaders are tired of projects and programmes underperforming and are demanding more insight, control and management of their investments.
Leaders want to be informed about potential issues and are increasing their due diligence on proposed investments by becoming more cost focused and asking pertinent questions on schedule duration, risks and opportunities.
Current performance information needs to be readily available and clearly presented so that decision makers can make early, effective and informed decisions.
Embedding and integrating processes, people and systems to control investments is a recognised mechanism that can enable projects to finish on time, within budget and to the required quality standards. This is not only possible, but it is essential for organisations that want to succeed in today’s challenging construction environment.
In this article, I propose five steps to set up project and programme investment for success:
1. Align project strategy with organisational vision and develop a robust delivery plan
The project strategy should be aligned with an organisation’s overall vision and goals. The delivery plan should define the project scope, total duration to deliver the approved scope and overall budget inclusive of associated risks and opportunities.
Research from the Project Management Institute (PMI) has found that the top one third of projects from a planning completeness perspective had an 82 percent chance of meeting those goals, whereas only 66 percent of projects in the lower third did.
At the outset of the project, it is crucial to spend sufficient time developing a robust baseline plan.
This will inform how the project will be delivered, provide a platform to monitor and measure performance against, and, if necessary, make the right decisions at the right time to ensure the project or programme is delivered as planned. Through research, the PMI has concluded that, “the level of planning completeness is positively correlated with project success in the construction industry”.
2. Adopt a fit-for-purpose approach to project delivery
The delivery approach should be tailored to the specific needs of the project. An effective delivery framework provides consistency and clarity on how organisations should deliver projects and provide guidance, tools and templates that cover all functions of project delivery. This can include scope, cost, schedule, risk and change management.
Connecting this with internal processes, such as governance, is critically important to ensure projects are managed and controlled throughout the project lifecycle.
Implementing a consistent approach to project delivery promotes clarity, communication, collaboration and continuity, and drives continuous innovation between teams.
Embedding a project delivery framework or amending current frameworks may require organisational change. As a result, a change and transition management plan should also be developed and endorsed to assure people are ready, willing and able to implement the delivery framework.
3. Integrate and automate project data into powerful insights through digital systems
Too often project management information is scattered across multiple systems, tools and databases. It is important to integrate project data, including cost, schedule, risk, process and change. Automating reporting cycles through digital systems generates efficient insights that help control projects.
Leveraging technology and integration of systems can provide teams with a ‘single source of truth’ across investment programmes.
This will help to improve visibility into project performance and provide teams with more time to analyse insights, thereby increasing control of projects through delivery.
The construction industry is lagging behind many other sectors with the adoption of digital technologies, but projects that integrate systems and leverage data in new ways drive productivity and performance. This approach will allow organisations to build with less risk and improve confidence in achieving project outcomes.
4. Ensure the right people are in place
There are three pillars – people, processes, and systems – which are essential for successful project delivery.
To effectively control projects, organisations need a strong pool of talented people with the necessary skills and experience. Organisations should assess the current capability across their organisation and either recruit for necessary skills or implement training and upskilling to improve capability.
5. Implement a ‘three lines of defence’ approach to project assurance
A ‘three lines of defence’ approach helps to mitigate risk and ensure that projects are delivered successfully. This approach consists of:
- The project team conducts day-to-day monitoring, control and review in accordance with a project delivery framework.
- Management governs the project performance against approved budget, time, quality and wider success criteria, providing strategic oversight and guidance to project teams.
- Independent health checks to validate existing processes and procedures are effectively and efficiently implemented. The review should also evaluate cost and schedule performance and, if required, provide recommendations to assure the project achieves the desired outcomes.
Improved capital delivery performance
To ensure capital investment is effectively managed, organisations should undertake an independent controls and performance assessment approach to continually improve their capital delivery performance.
Through three core criteria - strategy and set-up, controls and assurance, and reporting - there is a focus on people, process, systems, tools and templates to determine how effective each are at achieving their intended purpose.
The assessment provides an holistic view of an organisation’s current state of project delivery, inclusive of qualitative and quantitative analysis that determines areas of excellence and areas of improvement, alongside a detailed roadmap to achieve project delivery ambitions. The result gives organisations confidence that their projects and programmes are set up, controlled and appropriately managed to achieve desired outcomes.