In our last series, we covered the challenges and solutions to project strategy. This series will cover the challenges and solutions to project execution. Today, we will discuss the challenges around the initial specifications and ongoing governance of the business case.
The most important element of a successful project is meeting the business case and original scope of the project.
The pass-off from strategy to execution is the first challenge. In the portfolio stage we decided what projects are best to support the Organizational Vision and Strategy. The initial output from the portfolio process (specifications) may have vague language surrounding important dimensions of a project.
For example, a capital project might have a requirement that merely says “Improve system performance” with no associated qualifications or quantifications. 30% improvement in system performance will have different associated cost and schedule from 10% improvement, so any plans and baselines developed without clear knowledge of the full scope will create a variance right off the bat. If either through the specification process or—worse yet—implementation and close-out process, the stakeholder informs the project manager that they have different expectations from what is being delivered, then the project will be in great danger of missing either its scope, budget, schedule, or business case (e.g. ROI or solution objectives). This can especially be a challenge if the definition process is missing subject matter experts, a rigorous project definition process, and/or project management expertise to apply the process.
Poor oversight and governance throughout the execution process can continue to hurt the project’s achievement of the original business objectives. As we covered in the “Strategy Challenges” section, the dynamic business environment may cause the objectives and/or the means for achieving that objective to change before the project can complete. Because of this, a project can deliver on the original specifications, but still not be aligned with the business objectives it was meant to achieve.
Things change, projects drift, business objectives evolve. It requires an airtight process to make sure that changes are identified, acknowledge, and revised in a way that’s complementary to the original expectations. There are often deficiencies somewhere in the following process:
Any gap in the process will lead to misalignment that requires a scope, schedule, and/or scope change. Often a large difficulty here is for the stakeholder to expect and understand the costs associated with not only the changes themselves but with the impact analysis process. Impact analysis is typically not budgeted, requires critical project resources, is disruptive to the current “status quo” and consumes project funding. The saying in project management is, “Yes, we do charge for estimates.”
Another challenge for governance is properly managing risk, especially in monitoring and responding to project risks during execution. Executives have enough “real” problems to address that they often do not want to focus on problems that not only do not exist yet but might not ever actualize. It takes a well-oiled process to have the project manager dedicate the bandwidth to continually monitor the risks, have the fortitude to report negative findings to the stakeholder, and for the stakeholder to know when a significant change is needed, even pulling the plug on the project altogether when necessary. Most organizations have difficulty with at least one stage of that process, which often leaves the benefits of risk management unrealized.