So long as you see poor project performance as a "project problem" you will have problem projects. The business needs to take back control.

Consistently poor results

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results. Despite knowing this, organizations have largely repeated their (poor) approach to delivering projects while expecting different results (insofar as they measure their results).

At the macro level  project results have barely improved in the past 25 years. The 1992 AD Little study on project results and the Standish 2013 Chaos research deliver essentially the same results. Whatever organizations are doing it is not improving project performance and delivering improved results or increasing the ROI.

Improving the organization’s capability to deliver projects and programs successfully is a board and executive team accountability as it directly impacts on the organization’s ability to execute its strategy.

To date, most of the effort to improve the performance of projects has focused on the projects and project 'experts'. This may sound obvious – to fix problem projects, focus on projects and how they are delivered. But this is the wrong approach.

Poor project performance is a business problem

Problem projects are a business problem. As long as you believe problem projects are a project problem, you will have problem projects. Only when you recognize that the critical areas that need to improve are in the business will you improve project performance.

How is this so? The business should lead, direct and control the delivery of the desired business outcomes, their associated benefits and value. Outcomes, benefits and value are the primary measures of project success. The business needs to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned to delivering these outcomes and their benefits. It should ensure that every decision made protects and advances the delivery of this business value. But it doesn’t because, principally, it does not know how to.

The rise of the specialists

The business’ role in projects has largely been usurped by the project specialists.

  • Business people don’t specify their requirements, business analysts do.
  • Business people don't implement the changes, change managers do.
  • Business people don’t align their projects with the strategy, business architects do.

The problem with this transfer of roles from the business to the specialists is that the latter do not understand the business, the strategy, the practical constraints or what is really important in the business. Hence the mismatch that occurs when projects are delivered to a resounding outpouring of frustration.

Business tools, techniques and processes

The business management and staff need to take back their roles and lead, direct and control using not project delivery tools but business value delivery tools. Tools, techniques and processes designed for business use. Tools that are tuned to optimize the value delivered. These value delivery tools need to be the focus of board and executive project performance improvement initiatives if they want tangible results.

Basically, the business needs to take back control of their projects.

Topics: Value Delivery

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Mar  2014) as "Improving Project Performance"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections