Calming The Storm: Improve Project Performance by Addressing Project Processes
How frequently do your projects have risk of, or experience, cost overruns, schedule delays, and customer frustration? How much time each week do you spend updating schedules, justifying delays and negotiating budget extensions? These activities can start to feel like a way of life, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
The culprit could be process problems. Three primary symptoms typically emerge to indicate that you have a process problem:
Delays can derail even the best-planned project, due to weather events, supply chain interruptions, scheduling conflicts with contractors, changes from the customer, and many more. However, the following causes are avoidable with process improvement at your side:
- Poor quality work, which needs to be done again to meet specifications
- Wait times due to poor lines of communication or complex workflow
- Phase 5 beginning without adequate information from Phase 4, resulting in delays waiting for more information
- Constraints exist in the workflow, and work is held up by the bottlenecks
Symptom: Cost Overruns
If costs climb because of increases in material pricing or labor rates, that’s hard to solve with better processes. However, the following may be due to poor quality work or lower-than-expected productivity:
- As a result of delays from rework, added labor is invested correcting mistakes
- Exceeding the overtime budget to make up for delays
- Materials are scrapped at high rates due to rejected quality, resulting in unplanned replacement materials
- Because historical completion times are not well documented or understood, estimates for labor are unreasonably low
- Time and effort are spent completing tasks that are later determined to be unnecessary
Symptom: Customer Frustration
Delays and rising costs from the above are obvious causes of customer frustration. However, the following are less obvious contributors to a poor customer experience, and can be avoided:
- Because customer requirements are not fully understood at the outset, multiple requests are made for more information and misinterpretation can occur
- Status updates are challenging to provide, due to an overly complex workflow, and are therefore not given at a frequency which makes the customer feel confident
- If delivery does not exceed customer expectations of performance, quality, or cost, then for subsequent projects the customer must waste time evaluating other providers instead of simply utilizing the same firm
To complicate all the above, a customer’s reaction to the above concerns can be to ask for MORE updates – which takes time away from actual project execution, and puts the project further behind.
With costs increasing, delays, and frustrated customers, all eyes can be on the project manager to save the day. However, because the processes are out of control, the results are out of control, and all the effort to update timelines, get extensions and expedites can feel like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.
In our experience, process improvement makes life much easier for project managers because the processes within the project are running as planned, or better-than-planned. By addressing the root cause of delays, cost overruns, and customer frustrations, projects can finally run as expected, with much less effort and firefighting; and most of those root causes can be seen in the diagram below showing the drivers of productivity and quality, which have direct impacts on project performance.
With project process improvements, relationships between project managers and their peers improves, because those being managed finally have a process that supports excellent results – they aren’t set up for failure.
Not only are the project results dramatic for teams, but customer requirements can be exceeded, which creates deeper, more-satisfying customer relationships.