Why you should NOT try to improve how you do projects!

Many organizations are wanting to ‘improve how they do projects’ so as to get better results, more consistent results or even just some results.

The task is then handed to a special team, to IT or to a Portfolio Management Office to ‘fix’.

The nominated people, understandably, look at how they do projects now, what problems are evident and what can be fixed. If they have a project methodology, they’ll replace it with another. If they don’t have a methodology, they’ll get one.

They’ll do more training, more recruiting and more change management — all to ‘improve how they do projects’.

But this is not the right focus or outcome.

The key question for any project delivery capability improvement initiative is,
“How does this action increase the value delivered through our projects?”

If the improvement team cannot answer this, they have failed.

“We’ve got a better methodology” is not a valid answer unless it can be shown that (a) the former methodology (or lack of one) directly destroyed value and (b) that the new one directly delivers additional value.

“We select better projects” is not a valid answer unless you can actually fully realize the value these ‘better projects’ contain. Blundering forward with the right projects is not a recipe for success (albeit it may waste less money and effort).

At the end of the day the business does not want projects it wants results — new business end states that deliver in full the expected business benefits and value.

In this context, ‘improving how you do projects’ is only relevant in so far as you directly address the drivers of value loss. Having a better methodology that loses value faster is hardly a step forward!

To have a successful ‘capability uplift program’ you need to change your language and focus.

1 Talk of improving “value delivery” but not project management. The latter is a skill-set, the former is a process. It’s the process you need to focus on.

2 Focus on what drives or destroys investment value in your organization. Where and when does the value get lost? How you do ‘work breakdown structures’ is not usually critical to investment value delivery. So what is? Know them and tackle them first. (It may surprise you that we found that the business case is often the single greatest destroyer of value!)

3 Involve senior management early, as too much value is lost through poor management decisions, reluctance to challenge management’s desires and ineffective project governance. If they’re not on side with your capability uplift project, cancel the project.

4 Create a value proposition for your uplift program as early as possible so that you can always show why it is a valuable, viable priority. Otherwise you’ll be cancelled as soon as times get tough or money gets tight.

5 Deliver (and publicise) real benefits early and frequently. You should always aim to demonstrably save every year 10 times your uplift project’s cost. And as most projects miss, lose or destroy 50% or more of their potential value, this should be easy to achieve.

Topics: Capability Development, Value Delivery, Project Controls, Value Equation

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Nov 2008) as "Why You Should NOT Try To Improve How You Do Projects"

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