Finishing projects to time, cost and scope is overrated

Taking a traditional project management approach to finishing on time, to cost and within scope isn’t always applicable to projects. Knowing the right time to stop a project is crucial.

Projects that focus on business change for example; is it necessary to have the organisation functioning 100% as was designed? Or will 70% do?

Could you be moving on to the next project that will deliver benefit more easily, or a higher return on investment? Obviously this thinking can only be applied to certain projects, 70% of a bridge wouldn’t be a success in anyone’s eyes.

However, projects that aim to improve the organisation could benefit from this more brutal approach to ceasing projects. If the added value of the project underway falls toward the end of its life, then is it counterproductive to continue it?

This is quite a simple concept, and one that will no doubt happen in an informal way in your organisation; resources are moved around in order to produce the most value for the organisation.

You may have heard some management-speak around these techniques when anyone talks about ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘quick wins’ or ‘80/20’ when discussing projects, they are usually referring to the above. 80/20, or the Pareto principle, is particularly beneficial when applied to benefit projects.

If it takes 20% of the overall effort to achieve 80% of the benefit and the inverse holds true (that the remaining 20% will take 80% of effort), then why bother? In theory, another project could be initiated and the cycle starts again.

All of the above is assuming that you have constrained resources in your organisation. Of course you do, and this situation means that priority needs to be given to some projects over others.

This doesn’t have to be particularly complex either, in fact, the simpler the better as you’ll need to communicate this to a broad range of people. And the key decision-makers won’t have the time to analyse complex data and information.

Barriers from successfully implementing these techniques

  • It requires someone to stop the project. This is easy to say, quite difficult to implement depending on the culture of your organisation. It is likely that the project not delivering enough benefit has a high profile sponsor that will not take kindly to their pet (project) being put down. And who can blame them? This is where your best stakeholder management and influencing techniques come in handy, communicating that there could be a better opportunity and worst case, that this project is damaging the organisation should do the trick.
  • It is, as mentioned, contrary to the time tested techniques of project management. Educating key people within the organisation is suggested as the antidote here, the ‘buy-in’ is usually quite high once the penny drops.
  • Last, but by no means least, there needs to be someone assessing the projects in the first place. Be this a PMO, PSO, Portfolio Office, Centre of Excellence, or any other catchy title, someone needs to do some simple maths to work out the benefit per cost of doing each and every project. Even the regulatory ones which will have to happen anyway, and could even produce a negative benefit. They all need to be assessed. Public sector people may be switching off, but all of this applies to you too, if not more due to your key stakeholders being the taxpaying public.

Portfolio and programme management are the usual titles given to the use of these techniques, the notion that these are just project management – but bigger needs to be addressed.

What these techniques do is intelligently link the strategy of your organisation to the ongoing projects. Will the implementation of the latest PC operating system improve your bottom line? If not, then why do it? I can guarantee that at least one project within your organisation is adding no value.

Go on, stop that project.