A cursory scan of the TACT blog will show how much we like writing about successful technology projects. After all, it’s what we do. But there’s a flip side to success, and though we dare not mention its name, we thought we’d take a deep dive right into its belly in light of an alarming new finding.
Remember the good old days when the mark of a successful project was one that was ‘on time and on budget’? Never mind if it didn’t deliver the anticipated benefits, or if it became clear the scope of the project had fallen short of the needs of the business. Such issues could be corrected in phase two.
Or so we used to think.
In reality, projects often don’t make it to phase two as funds become scarce, time runs out or businesses reassess their priorities. Long story short, many projects don’t live up to expectation, and it’s become a sizeable global problem.
According to the Project Management Institute's recently released ‘global survey of project, program and portfolio managers’, 10 per cent of every dollar invested on projects is wasted through poor project performance. This equates to $97 million wasted for every billion dollars spent. In Australia, the figure is even higher at 11 per cent – or a staggering $108 million wasted per billion dollars spent. It’s mind boggling.
Bureaucracy is often blamed for project delays and cost blowouts, but in reality, according to PMI chief executive Mark Langley, it is because we don’t adequately invest in careers for program and project managers.
In other words, our projects cost us millions more than they should because the people managing them are not quite up to the task – and we mean this in the nicest possible way.
According to Mr Langley, a major factor is the lack of “defined and documented career paths for project and program managers”. He says that recognising the value that project specialists bring to organisations by enabling the sort of structured career progression that already exists for lawyers, engineers and accountants is paramount.
He makes a good point, and one that goes a long way to explaining the high churn within project teams and the lack of accountability from project leaders that can occur when things go awry.
Promoting a culture of accountability
Tech journalist Colin Ellis has written extensively about project accountability and in this article in CIO magazine, he asked “when will the IT project madness end?”. His article cites epic fails like the 2016 Census and Victoria’s East-West link as prime examples of costly project flops, where haste or political expediency caused significant project deficiencies to be overlooked or ignored.
Instead of accountability from those involved, Mr Ellis argues, “they continue to make excuses, ‘the scope expanded’, ‘there were lots of unknowns’, ‘the risks were greater than we first thought’, ‘interest rate fluctuations really damaged our budget planning’, rather than fronting up to the taxpayer and admitting they got it wrong”.
It’s a harsh assessment, but in light of the millions of taxpayer dollars involved, a fair one.
"Businesses who invest in getting ahead of the curve will be the big winners in a technology-driven, infrastructure-focused future." – Tom Bendistinto, TACT
How do we get more value from projects?
As the head of the PMI, Mark Langley meets regularly with governments and business leaders around the world. He observed that, “every major government is experiencing challenges in their ability to deliver infrastructure. Governments that are actually investing in building that capacity (will) be more successful going forward because they know that building infrastructure is key to economic growth.”
“There's an opportunity for Australian organisations to invest in the careers of project managers in both the public and private sector.” – Mark Langley, Chief Executive, Project Management Institute
In this interview with the ABCs Peter Ryan, Mr Langley explained that, “it’s not about being capable today for the projects of the past three years, it’s about being capable today for the projects of the next three to five years. Being able to deliver the projects of the future … only comes from ongoing training and development”.
There is a strategic opportunity for Australian organisations to develop their project management capability and imbed substantive project leadership career paths into their organisational structure. Businesses who invest in getting ahead of the curve will be the big winners in the technology-driven, infrastructure-focused future that is already playing out.
At TACT, we have seen time and time again what can happen when dedicated, capable project managers and their teams are not given the wings to enact the company's vision. Poor communication, inadequate resources, a lack of visibility and poor stakeholder management are commonly touted reasons for this, but is the overarching problem more about a lack of recognition of the project management craft? Could elevating the profession to one where structured career progression and accountability are the norm rather than the exception, see project performances soar and wastage plummet?
Business leaders – get your skates on
If you’re a business leader, a decision you need to make sooner rather than later is will you develop your organisation’s project and program management capability organically, recruiting and training from within, or will you bring in experts to help lay a solid foundation from which to grow?
Building capable project teams, developing credible career paths and implementing future-focused training programs are all essential steps to becoming an infrastructure partner of choice.
Whichever path you decide to take, think long and hard about whether it can get your organisation where it needs to be because years from now, you’ll have to own the choices you made today.
About the author
Teri Cooper is a writer, marketer and digital communications specialist who writes about technology, business strategy and leadership. She founded digital consultancy Scoot Communications in 2014. When she's not hunched over a keyboard, she can often be found roaming around Melbourne indulging in her two current passions, Instagram and coffee.