“We forget that people deliver projects.”

Most of my working time is spent helping clients nudge, shove or wrestle out-of-control projects that have gone off the rails. Occasionally the kindest thing is to put the project team out of their misery, but more often than not, with the right intervention, even the most wayward assignment can be converted.

The “right intervention” is the key; successful project recovery is all about seeing what has to change and executing that change efficiently. The challenge is in finding the right intervention.

Governance and process undoubtedly have their place, but the enforcing process alone is no guarantee of success.  Most management methodologies are task-based (status report each Friday; steering every two weeks and so on); the very act of “following a process” can tranquilise those responsible for thinking that delivery is assured – until of course, the next report shows a slippage.

Balancing scope, budget, timeline and quality are necessary activities.   But issues found here are often the symptoms of the problem and not the cause.  The project is deemed out of control because one or more of these measures is assessed to be flawed and the project is then “re-planned”.  Without tackling the root cause the project will be in trouble before too long.

So where to look for the “right intervention”?  We often forget that people deliver projects, not processes, not plans, not status reports but people coming together to achieve a shared goal. So the most obvious place to look is the people.

By “People” I mean competent individuals operating in clearly defined roles taking personal responsibility for delivery. Source these people; get their own personal ambitions aligned to the objectives of the project; overlay that with some process and governance and you are set up for success.

There is no point in looking at people fulfilling the standard roles such as “Project Manager” or “Sponsor” or the “Architect”.  Most projects have these roles assigned. When a project is in trouble they often have a great story as to why it’s someone else’s fault that the project is in trouble.  To cut to the heart of the problem we need to look at what each role should bring to the project.  In my view, there are four building blocks translating into four key people which every project should have.

First-person to find is The VISIONARY.  This person knows what has to be delivered to make the project a success and by extension what is important and what is not.  This person’s vision is clear and focused and they commit to taking care of any issue impacting on creating that future.

Next, find the DESIGNER.  This person understands the tools required to support the vision.  In IT projects this person will understand technical design.  For process improvement projects the Designer will invent new ways of working.  The Designer revels in the practical challenges of good design and commits to producing elegant and maintainable solutions.

The INVESTOR has a clear sense of return for the investment and has responsibility for the business return.  The Investor must have trust in both the vision and the solution and make sure that the project remains a sound investment.  They need to have the power and the courage to dismiss core team members or stop the project if needed.

The EXECUTOR is responsible for turning the vision and the design into reality. They ensure the right commitments are in place and are being honored. They need to lead as well as manage. They know they are doing a good job when their team coordinates impeccably with minimum intervention.   The Executor also makes sure all stakeholders are committed rather than involved, and that the Investor has a realistic picture of the project.

Project recovery starts by assessing the project against these roles and making changes based on what you find.   Any compromise means risking success.

Author: Paul Fegan, Pathfinder- consultants in a range of industries and sectors including change management consultants finance sector UK and Ireland.

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