Solving project performance problems has to start at the top

Austerity, explained Andy Murray, Director of Outperform, is a government policy of deficit cutting, lower spending and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided.

Murray was speaking at The Austerity Debate, a discussion at the historic Lloyd’s Register building in the City, about how project management is being affected by the current economic climate. Government departments, development, infrastructure, welfare projects and suppliers who sell to the government are all being hit. “The shakedown in austerity terms means there’s less project management work for most of us,” he said.

Facing a crisis

Trevor Band, from Team Animation, was one of the speakers. “I tend to think we’re facing a bit of a crisis,” he said. $3trillion a year is being wasted on poor performance, he explained. Stakeholders are increasingly less tolerant of project failure.

Band also pointed out that when organisations start to tackle this wastage, they often start with the methodology. A few more documents, a couple of certification programmes for project managements. But really companies should start with the strategy. “Start at the top,” he said. “For so long the focus has been on project managers and programme managers, methodologies and tools. We’re taking goldfish, training them and putting them back in the same bowl.”  In other words, you can’t just offer project managers training and then expect them to do something differently in an organisation that hasn’t adapted around them.

Connect projects to strategy

Band recommended going up a level and connecting the methodology with the strategy and organisational culture. Focus on organisational leadership: look for consistent decision making from the top to the bottom. What we should be aiming for, he said, is “managers at all levels providing an environment where projects can succeed and programmes can succeed.”

All projects should be tied to values, strategy and decisions. In a decision-driven organisation, project management can be an enabler for cost saving. “Every project failure is a failure of governance and every failure of governance is a failure of top management,” he said.