Whenever we get to the new normal, whatever that looks like, we’ll have the chance to do things a little differently, a little better, after our period of enforced reflection. We have to be optimistic, and progress to a more sensible way of doing things.
Here’s my five suggestions for how we can do a project better – whether that’s constructing a huge piece of infrastructure, developing a complex technical product, introducing a radical piece of public policy, or something far smaller and less ambitious, yet very important in its own way.
Make it sustainable. Sustainability must be at the heart of any project justification process – balancing the needs to protect the environment, improve how society works, and sustain a viable economy. Working out sustainable return on investment is tricky, especially putting a price on things like clean air. But the more we do it, the better we’ll get. We have to value life cycle (sustainable) cost over lowest first cost, and value long term sustainable return on investment over short term economic return on investment. Our priorities may need to change: time saved versus energy consumed means slightly slower supply chains for instance.
Make intelligent re-use of things. Look at what can be re-used. Can office furniture be restored and adapted for new needs, rather than thrown away? Can much of a building be retained while making it fit for modern needs (see Liverpool Central Library)? Can older equipment be renovated and refurbished for less intensive use (see Vivarail’s rejuvenation of London Underground trains to run on branch lines)? Destruction and disposal wastes resources and uses energy; and making new concrete releases prodigious amounts of carbon into the atmosphere – back to sustainability.
Involve the users. So many projects are beset by the ‘I know best culture’. Not every chief executive or senior politician has the prescient genius of a Steve Jobs or an Akio Morita. Project design must involve the eventual end users in some way – interviews, focus groups, hands on workshops, etc. – and so must the actual development of whatever the project is creating. People aren’t stupid, and making a big secret of the project and telling them how good everything is going to be generally turns out to be a much worse strategy than being honest and getting them involved. That way, what gets developed is what gets used, and expensive features aren’t included that turn out to be redundant – back to sustainability. Oh, and if there are stroppy stakeholders, better to deal with them early on than face strikes and protests when the project is finished.
Aim for beautiful functionalism. Whether it’s in cars or construction or anything else, complex forms are costly to make and generally costly to maintain. A tight economy and a brake on the outlandish should encourage designers and architects to create products and buildings based on good proportions, being pleasant to use and making economic use of materials. Things should be designed from the inside out (function to form) so we don’t wind up with groovy looking schools that make teaching difficult (see ‘involve the users’ above). That might mean a bit less choice, with more cars sharing the same shape of highlights for instance, but standardised components are more efficient to make and probably work better. Beautiful functionalism is possible – look at the photo of Formby swimming pool above. Did I mention there’s a lot in here about sustainability?
Go lean. We can get much smarter at how resources (people and physical) are used. Partly that means getting away from the mantra that every project is unique. Every project should be as un-unique as possible! That’s doesn’t mean boring repetition, but striking a sensible balance between innovation for its own sake and innovation that solves the particular problem and creates a better output. What is learned from previous projects should be carefully sifted and added to the corporate knowledge base so we don’t make the same mistakes over and over again. And of course quality is at the heart of lean, really understanding what is important to the customer and focussing on that – eliminating waste and doing the job right first time. Sustainability again! That said, perhaps the immediate priority is not maximum productivity. In the short run, pressure on employment means we might favour well-trained people over more labour-saving equipment.
What do you think? By the way, next time shall predict what I worry will really happen.
For some more thoughts on this, head to PM101 on Zavanak.com and look at Lecture 15 – Sustainability.
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