Time, Cost and Quality are generally referred parameters for a project’s success. If these parameters are achieved project is called as success, if not a failure. Managing these parameters should not be such a challenging task, but the way projects fail (severe historical time & cost over-runs) this needs a critical examination. It necessitates a revisit to our existing project delivery system. This write-up re-looks into viability of existing project success model & existing project controls mechanism and delves into new project success model & project management controls mechanism.
Project Success Model
Project managers, many a times, get so obsessed with schedule (time) and budget (cost) management that they forget that these are outcomes of the project success and not the means; to be precise, not the only means. No wonder, such misplaced priorities, clubbed with skewed proficiencies, result in almost every second project as failed. Definition of project failure is simple, not achieving project objectives, and/or marred with over-runs.
Obviously these two (time & cost) elements, actually all three including quality (fig01, referred here as old project success model), are important processes to be adhered to but other processes are equally important (as shown in fig02-new project success model).
As shown in fig 02, project success model though culminates at schedule and budget successes, it is amalgamation of other equally important elements of project management processes. Here, Quality as an achievable parameter, is missing in new success model (fig-01 to fig 02). Primary reasons for not showing quality specifically in this (new) model are :-
1. Quality is, and must be, inherent part of all operations and processes. It has to be engrained in the consciousness of the all and sundry involved in the project.
2. Quality, like other element of QHSE-safety at work, health & environmental awareness, is, and must be, part of standard operations. Any additional need, including having a separate department for quality, or QHSE, is accepting that standard operations do not adhere with quality outputs. A road engineer is expected to deliver quality roads, same as excavation operations are to be done taking care of entire gamut of QHSE needs.
3. Observation is against futility of having a separate quality entity, an entity beyond operations and not to denigrate either quality as a function or need to have related staff within operations.
4. Quality, like other elements of QHSE, is like oxygen present in the air - indispensably important yet not visible. It has to be like that inbuilt in operations.
PMCS model and its role within organizational set up
Generally, project controls is referred as management and control of schedule & budget, which is inadequate and does not cover entirety of project management functions. Project controls, in specific cases of project delivery environment, preferably be termed as Project Management Controls System (PMCS), for
(a) project controls indicates wider control scenarios including functions beyond project management e.g. finance, and other such corporate/organization level functions.
(b) while PMCS covers, exclusively, control of PM functions only, hence it has distinguished limits-a key requirement for any control mechanism.
Further, a ‘control’ mechanism must be separated with management (operation) part of it. It is so common, and confusing many a times – generally with exceptions, to mix project management and its control. For example, to prepare/accept/use of a baseline (of any PM deliverable) is part of project management (operation), but a control mechanism must ensure that same entity (the PM team which uses it) has no unchecked authority to alter the baseline. Alternatively, it can better be named as Project Management Support Services (PMSS). A PMSS is thus PMCS works except controls of it. Different terms ‘system’ and ‘services’, as noted above in two cases, is intentional and its intended meaning to be carefully noticed.
In an ideal scenario, PMCS must have workable independence which is so frequently mixed up. It is common sense to expect not so pleasant questions raised by a control system. No control entity, like PMCS, can raise tougher queries to its own line management. Hence, for the wider benefits of the project success, PMCS like any control mechanism to have, as a minimum, workable independence. If not, it results in confusion, complexity and ultimately leads to project failures.
Following organization set up summarily describes the role and position of PMCS and PMSS.
It’s a conceptual framework with direct and indirect reporting relationship. Actual scenarios may differ and to be modified based on related variables, such as: organization types (matrix, functional or projectized), delivery type (client, consultant, contractor), contractual framework, industry types, size of project and so on.
Elements of PMCS Model
As stated above, PMCS encompasses control mechanism not only for time and cost functions but to all important PM functions. A holistic approach, as shown in fig02, minimizes project failure possibilities. Elements of this new PMCS model are briefly described as below.
Project Team: In a pyramidal model it finds place at foundation level clearly signifying its importance as root cause of project success. Second most critical factor of project failure is inappropriateness of project team. First is not having ‘simplicity’ in operations, processes and leadership (read as team building). A cohesive team, built on integrity and lead by wise leadership, can achieve project objectives in any situation whatever adversity exists. Inversely, a disgruntled team seldom succeeds.
There may be divergent views on having, or not having, HR processes within PMCS scope. As outlined in fig-02, standard PMCS setup may exclude it entirely, however it is prudent to have project team, being so critically important, within PMCS functionality. While productivity of team(s) is one aspect where PMCS concentrates, it also supports wider team functionalities like team building, team sustainability and performance management.
Project Systems, Processes & Communication
Even the greatest of men (and women) need disciplined system in place to go ahead with any operation. Only difference is, great people will enable a system and follow it, and not so great people-the project losers will not follow any system even if they’re presented with greatest of policies & procedures. This necessitates to have a meticulous yet simple process of operations and effective communication system.
Communication within project management is vital. PMCS ensures entire span of effective communication including need analysis, requirement planning, distribution network, performance management and reporting.
PMCS may not necessarily be owner of a particular functional process but it helps to have stringent change control system in place.
Risk management is one of the most neglected part of the project management, which in fact plays most important role in project success. Even if it is inducted in PM processes, it hardly reaches beyond having a risk register-mostly for the sake of having it or having it due to procedural/contractual obligations. An honest risk management framework, supported by continuous evaluate-act system will effectively pave way for project success.
Risk management reminds the journey of QHSE induction in regular PM operations. Decades back, when QHSE system was introduced to PM operations, it was first taken as ‘burden’ by PM practitioners, then after incessant trainings and mindset changes, it ended up as separate entity within PM operations (mostly a separate department/section). While it should have gone into their (our) heads. Risk management has yet to travel its journey for a rightful place.
Project Scope Integration
Scope-creep is one of the common reason for project delays. Still, it is beyond a proper control mechanism. In a typical controls system, generally obsessed with time & cost controls, we hardly find any mention of scope baselines. Not having a baseline is recipe for unrestrained creep.
An ideal PMCS mechanism establishes scope baselines wholly integrated with other baselines, and exercises control in its changes.
Another important element in project failure is absence of stakeholder management. Every stakeholder, external or internal, has potential to influence project processes. While actions of stakeholders may be beyond PMCS scope but impacts of such actions must be within its purview and must be taken care of.
As such, three vital elements (risk, scope integration and stakeholder) are placed together in this pyramidical structure signifies their interrelated-intricacies. Successful implementation of these elements strengthens other elements, namely schedule and budget.
One of the two most visible project success factors, schedule control is vital PMCS function. A cost over-run may not necessarily result in time over-run but a time over-run (project delays) will surely result in cost over-runs (need of additional money).
This is most active element of any control mechanism, frequently exercised across the PM setups, by experts and many a times without them. Nonetheless, it is equally marred with pitfalls, triviality and ineptitude. Some of the major pitfalls are- jump to execution without a plan (time schedule), plan when in trouble and not prior to it, lack of interest by team mainly by decision makers, competence issues and more.
The other most visible project success factor is budget control i.e. to complete project within budget. From seeding (project conceptualization) to reaping (operational stage of project) and in between, entire project life cycle revolves around project budget and its efficient management (in simple terms saving every possible penny). However as stated earlier, effective cost control is output of prudent exercise of all other elements of PMCS.
Usually PMCS success is measured in time & cost parameters. A successful project is the one which is completed within allotted time and budget. But, can we term all the projects which fail to meet these two parameters as ‘failure’? Not really. Only time and cost alone should not be the parameters to check whether or not a project is successful, for (a) time and cost baselines may be faulty, result of inappropriate estimation, (b) over-runs may not necessarily impact the intrinsic purpose of the project; project may still be useful for what it is intended to.
Accordingly, in line with intrinsic purpose of the project, which every project has, a new success parameter is added aptly at the pinnacle of this pyramidical model; Project Objective.
Each project, whether it’s construction of new community school, a new canal system for irrigation, a technological mission, successful hosting of a beauty pageant and so on, has an inherent delivery objective. Such objectives may be beyond time & cost considerations, or its objective may match one or both of these parameters. Project objective in construction of world’s best Hotel is ‘the best’ while time & cost over-runs may be secondary, however important. Project objective in a project of delivering lifesaving equipment to an earthquake affected area will always be timely delivery.
PMCS is as important in a project management establishment as mind in a body. Project delivery is akin to winning battles where enemies are over-runs, underachieved project objectives. A mindless warrior whatever power he may posses will eventually lose; similarly, devoid of a prudent PMCS system a project however resourceful it is, will always be short of its success.