In my previous article I was pretty sanguine about how, in coming out of the Covid-19 crisis, we could do projects rather better. However, the realist in me suggests that it too many cases, bad habits will persist. Here are five mistakes I am sure too many project sponsors, added and abetted by overly compliant project managers, will make.
A failure to realise the world has changed. Projects that are going to make a difference will have to happen much more quickly, both to help society and to make a profit. ‘Well-proven’ methods, highly bureaucratic processes, and rigid demarcation of roles all need to be rigorously challenged and ditched if they slow down progress and add no value. The ramp up of ventilator development and production has shown what can be done instead with a much more action-focussed approach, with intensive cooperation across industry sectors and high levels of team empowerment.
The big shots call the shots. Vanity projects will continue to be approved, often cloaked in some pretence at responding to the pandemic. Look out for superficially clever work environments that prove to be completely impractical. Big shots will listen to self-appointed experts, and fiercely resist any challenges from those at the front line. Benefit criteria and financial analyses will be deliberately distorted to favour their projects. This is the perennial curse of mega-projects and will continue to happen, especially public sector ones where political leverage distorts things even further. HS2 has all the trappings of a vanity project.
A lack of end-to-end thinking. The urge to react quickly after the pandemic will lead to projects that create as many problems as they solve. A flurry of badly thought out cycle routes is an example, where a stretch of segregated cycle way ends by tipping cyclists out on to a busy intersection, or – as in the picture – on to a pavement going round a blind bend at a roundabout.
Bad contracts. I emphasise time and again that contracts are at the heart of many, many projects, and too often badly thought-out and managed contracts have led to disaster. Consider the Edinburgh tram fiasco for example, where it was unclear who was responsible for delays due to problems making the highways ready to accept the tram infrastructure. Project pace is vital, but not an excuse for poorly considered roles and responsibilities, and a failure to understand the risks and who must bear the potential costs and consequences if they occur. Project clients are often weak at contracts (remember the Private Finance Initiative?) which means that if there is a project supplier, somewhere between 99% and 100% of all contract provisions will favour the supplier.
Fee pumping. Clients will continue to fall prey to professional advisers, contractors and consultants who maximise their fees by doing lots of work that sounds important but adds little or no value to the project. I was on a project where, every time there was a minor tweak to the contract (because of a change somewhere), the client’s lawyers insisted on trawling the whole, massive contract from end to end just in case there was a consequence somewhere – for thousands and thousands of pounds a time.
What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic? What steps should we take?
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