By Richard Warren
Recent history is littered with expensive failures. Whether it’s the UK National Health Service’s abandoned patient record system that cost the British taxpayer an estimated £10 billion, the scrapping of the US Airforce’s Expeditionary Combat Support System at a cost of $1 billion or the failure of RBS to launch Williams & Glyn as a standalone high-street bank, the story is the same. A new initiative was embarked upon, things didn’t quite go to plan and stakeholders failed to take responsibility and turn the project around. As a result, the project was halted causing significant financial loss.
In theory, the aim of a financial change programme is to improve efficiency, boost profitability, or reduce costs. In practice this doesn’t always happen, and it is commonly accepted that nearly three quarters of all such initiatives fail to achieve their aim, either delivering late or coming in over budget, under scope or under quality.
“Projects fail for a variety of reasons,” says Brickendon Executive Director Nathan Snyder. “The key is to know the warning signs and act quickly.”
“Often projects can fail simply through lack of management support. Negative perceptions come into play and before you know it, a programme has been re-routed and re-named without the root cause being addressed.”
One of the key challenges for project teams, according to Snyder, is to balance the ability to predict outcomes and the ability to respond to change. He believes teams rarely get it right. The key however, is to ensure you have the right people in the right roles, that the scope is clear and that the benefits you are trying to achieve have been communicated to all. Tasks must be clearly defined, standards consistent and stakeholders not only fully engaged, but also realistic as to the expectations of the project.
A successful project achieves its business benefits, optimises costs and has satisfied stakeholders. By contrast, when business benefits are forgotten, costs spiral and stakeholders are ignored, a project is not only less likely to succeed but is also difficult to turnaround.
In order to help a project along the path to success, it is necessary to look out for several key warning signs, says Snyder. The easiest way to do this is to focus on the following questions:
- Are we still on course to deliver the relevant solution to the business objectives?
- How on track are we to deliver within the required timescales and be ready for key events?
- How clear is resource contention between our project and others in the business?
- What is the impact of company-wide recruitment policies and other cost-control measures?
- Does everyone in the project (from business stakeholders to developers) understand the business case, current status and key risks?
Where any of the answers are in the negative, the key is to address them quickly and attempt to get the project back on track. Documented evidence should be gathered on architecture, governance, programme context and risks, and a programme recovery plan put together to include project and programme management, activists, achievers, adapters and advocates. The key to success, according to Snyder, is to nurture these roles.
“By adopting innovative project approaches, it is possible to accelerate programmes by a factor of up to 12 times and even reduce project resources by as much as a third without impacting scope or time-to-market,” says Snyder.
One of the key issues at any stage of any change programme, but particularly when things are not going to plan, is communication. All stakeholders need to know what is happening and, if there are any problems, what is being done to deal with the issues.
There is no doubt that excellence is key to success, particularly in delivery, perception and team spirit. It is however also accepted that this is not easy to achieve. The main thing is to approach all stages of every project with open eyes and the open mindedness to be able to change the course of the programme should the need arise. After all, it is never too late to get your programme back on track.