Salvaging success: getting project performance back on track

Poor performing projects bring significant repercussions for the client, supply chain and communities. However, with the right tools and a collaborative mentality, it’s possible to get projects back on track to completion.

Much discussion in the industry today focuses on greater productivity and efficiency in the use of materials, labour and resources.  However, in many cases the required basics for successful projects aren’t even in place, resulting in projects that are over cost, behind schedule or at risk of not delivering against the original objectives.  

The reasons for poor performance range from failures in the supply chain and local market volatility to political factors, especially in big public-sector programmes.  Problems also stem from major adjustments to scope, or target dates, or budget reductions.

Failure to respond to these risks can cause significant business challenges to the client organisation.  Early intervention is essential to re-establish the principles of good project set-up and get schemes back on track.

Audit and intervene

While every project has its unique set of challenges and circumstances, the first step to reinvigorating performance is always the same – a rapid review and project audit.

In a short space of time, the review needs to gather as much knowledge and data about the project as possible, to assess whether the right fundamentals (in terms of organisational structure, baselines, control frameworks and procurement strategy) are in place.

Although it can be daunting, project recovery relies on quickly identifying the biggest roadblocks to performance and how these can be circumvented – even if it means making difficult decisions such as identifying new suppliers, re-phasing delivery of a project, or even re-design.

With clear plans developed, the second step is to deploy a skilled, specialist team to twin-track the new strategies and actions required, while also maintaining focus on day-to-day delivery.

Tools to get projects back on track

The core principles of project recovery remain the same as in good project initiation. By taking a fresh look at what would be done in an ideal situation or during set-up, you can identify how to deliver this at speed within the constraints of a live scheme.

Organisational culture and leadership is integral to good project set up, whether looking at a portfolio of real estate assets for a global manufacturing business, or a major airport expansion programme.  It’s essential that the entire team understand the vision, objectives and the value that they are bringing.  During project recovery, this may mean realigning and redefining roles and responsibilities, but also a change of mindset to avoid playing the blame game and instead instil a more motivating culture of trust and collaboration within the team.

Secondly, underpinning delivery with data becomes vital. A successful project set up will establish and embed an integrated data regime to monitor, understand and predict performance.  The amount of information that has been collected on a project, and the accessibility of these records, has a huge bearing on how quickly a deteriorating situation can be diagnosed and stabilised. Project recovery therefore relies on understanding what data exists, what data is required, and re-establishing these protocols going forward.

A high-performance project also needs targets.  Having the right baselines in place, and transparency around expected outcomes is a prerequisite to monitor success throughout the project lifecycle. A project re-set may therefore require new baselines which the whole supply chain can acknowledge and work to.

A high-performing supply chain is critical to project success and never is the case for investing in incentivising and rewarding these relationships stronger than when a project is struggling. In project recovery, a culture of openness, collaboration, and trust needs to overcome difficult and strained relationships that may have developed.  Engaging and re-motivating the supply chain is critical to managing risk.

Finally, a transition to a manufacturing mentality can also inject new vigour into failing projects. During the build phase, productivity can be boosted by adopting new methods such as offsite manufacture or repeatable component-led design. Investing and embedding these innovations can deliver significant gains in performance terms, which may be required to meet timescales.  

Re-setting programmes for success

While the construction industry continues to tackle its high-profile productivity conundrum, improving project performance – at both ends of the spectrum – is set to remain high on client agendas. 

As an industry, our focus should continue to be on exceptional initiation, providing greater certainty of outcomes and management of risk from the outset.  However, when projects start to fail, recovery remains an option: by following these steps and the principles of good project set up, we can re-set projects and programmes for success.