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Beyond project methodology

Jed Simms
August 10, 2011

Many organisations want to ‘improve how they do projects’ to get better results, more consistent results, or even some results. The task is then handed to a special team, IT or a PMO to ‘fix’. They, understandably, look at how the organisation does projects now and what can be fixed.

If they have a project methodology, they’ll replace it with another. If they don’t have a methodology, they’ll get one. They’ll do more training, more recruiting and more change management all to ‘improve how they do projects’. But this is not the right focus or outcome.

The key question for any project delivery capability improvement initiative is: “How does this increase the value delivered through our projects?” If the improvement team cannot answer this, they have failed.

“We have a better methodology” is not a valid answer unless it can be shown that:

  1. The former methodology (or lack of one) directly destroyed value; and
  2. The new one directly delivers additional value.

“We select better projects” is not a valid answer unless you can actually fully realise the value these ‘better projects’ contain. Blundering forward with the right projects is not a recipe for success although it may waste less money and effort.

At the end of the day the business does not want projects, it wants results—new business end states that deliver in full the expected business benefits and value.

In this context, improving how you do projects is only relevant in so far as you directly address the drivers of value loss. Having a better methodology that loses value faster is hardly a step forward!

So you need to change your language and focus.

  • Talk of improving project delivery (or value delivery) but not project management. The latter is a skill set, the former is a process. It’s the process you need to focus on.
  • Focus on what drives or destroys project value in your organisation. Where and when does the value get lost? How you do work breakdown structures is not usually critical to your value delivery success. So what is? Know them and tackle them first. It may surprise you that we found that the business case is often the single greatest destroyer of value!
  • Involve senior management early as too much value is lost through poor management decisions, reluctance to challenge management’s desires and ineffective project governance. If they’re not on side, cancel the project.
  • Build a value proposition for the improvement program as early as possible so that you can always show why it is a valuable, viable priority. Otherwise you’ll be cancelled as soon as times get tough.
  • Deliver (and publicise) real benefits early and frequently. You should always aim to demonstrably save 10 times your uplift project’s cost per annum. And as most projects miss, lose or destroy 50% or more of their potential value, this should be easy to achieve.

What do you think?

Jed Simms
Jed Simms is the founder and co-creator of Totally Optimized Projects, an internationally recognised strategy-based, business-driven approach to delivering projects. He specialises in project governance and control and value and benefits management. He is also the founding partner of consultancy Capability Management.
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