Projects are currently delivered by 'project specialists'. Now is the time for business leadership to regain control of their projects and future

The Red Flag Man And the Specialists

When cars were very new they were required to have a person walking in front of them with a red flag to warn other road users of the impending danger. (Actually it is more likely the red flag man was to slow down the car to be slower than its competitor – the horse and carriage – and therefore protect the status quo.)

When the red flag man was no longer required, cars were still sufficiently new ‘gadgets’ that most people needed a specialist driver who took care of the car (which often needed fixing).

Eventually people were able to own and drive their own car, as cars were now sufficiently reliable that they were less likely to breakdown every time you went out.

A Project Perspective

When we look at projects this history has repeated itself. In the early days the ‘red flag man’ was probably IT who tended to slow things down whenever they got involved.

Then projects were ‘driven’ by the specialist project fraternity. They justified their existence as being needed to fix the problems that occurred on projects. No one seemed to ask why projects were so unreliable that they needed this specialist care.

A Business Leadership Perspective

Now we can increase the reliability of projects and remove many of the problems and issues that need to be fixed as many project problems are symptoms of poor upstream processes and lack of business leadership.

These problems include:

  • Poor requirements definition leading to downstream scope changes that impact all aspects of the project.

  • Poor business leadership allowing business value to seep away throughout the project in an attempt to come in ‘on time and on budget’. This approach compromises the longer-term business value to achieve an (inappropriate) short-term performance measure.

  • Poor business cases that inadvertently encourage benefits and value minimization, reducing the return on investment unnecessarily. It is not uncommon to be able to double the value to be delivered.

  • Gaps between the project and change management processes that allow key changes to be missed or identified too late to deliver all of the available business value in full.

Currently more and more ‘professions’ (technical architects, change managers, benefits managers, etc.) have been created to fill the gaps in the delivery processes. It is all getting very complex and very expensive.

The result is that benefits are minimized and costs are increased. Not a great recipe for success.

A New Perspective

But what if you clearly identified exactly what the project is to deliver in business outcome terms, identified and aligned all of the activities required to deliver these business outcomes and their benefits? You can then…

  • Reduce the noise caused by ‘assumptions’

  • Reduce the number of proposed scope changes (you know specifically what you want upfront)

  • Reduce the gaps between the project and change activities—the whole project becomes a ‘change project’

  • Eliminate the gap between the project and the business value—the project becomes the primary ‘benefits delivery vehicle’

  • Increase the business value identified, quantified, targeted, delivered and ‘banked’.

So, instead of spending even more money training the specialist drivers (project managers) maybe you should spend money on making project delivery simpler, less expensive and able to deliver more business value.

It is time to both remove the red flag man and the specialist driver by making projects less complex, more reliable and able to deliver more value. This requires them to be business driven.

All you then have to do is equip the business to drive their projects. The rewards of business-driven projects are extraordinary.

See the results obtained by the TOP 5% of organizations that fully take control of their projects.

"The TOP 5%"

It really is that simple.

Topics: Project Governance

Further Reading



[1] ...

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Feb 2016) as "Isn't It Time For Business Leadership Of Projects?"

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