The “Prince 2 Practitioner” certification I recently completed led me to a more strategic review of elements of project management, corporate governance and a project office.
In particular, Prince2 rates as highly important the “Why are we doing this project? “, already identified as critical for the survival of a company, but often overlooked. The life of a business is based primarily on the motivation of its staff and the trust of its shareholders. These are two assets that must be preserved.
Identifying clearly the real reasons for doing a project will always be a winning approach for the company in the medium and long term because it ensures that the evaluation of the level of achievement of objectives remains fair and equitable. It is essential for maintaining an optimal level of staff motivation at all levels. Human resources are a major asset, critical to the success of a company, but investors / shareholders also need to understand the strategic framework of the company’s key projects to assess correctly the results obtained.
Each company operates in a specific context and pursues different business objectives. Any business whether public or private must analyze a portfolio of projects. These projects originate internally, or from a call for tenders or direct requests but a company can’t usually realize all.
Choices must be made. It will be better managed if the objectives which justify the selection are clearly identified. For a company, it may be opening a new market, for another ensuring continuity for projects teams, reducing certain costs, increasing customer satisfaction or optimizing capacity. Many other elements can be part of the reasons for undertaking a project. In the private and in the public sectors, political influences are often part of justification.
Explicitly documenting the reasons why, the company choose a project allows initially to properly inform management, shareholders and all stakeholders about expectations for this project. These initial reasons are the criteria that the company must then use to assess project performance.
The passage of time from the selection of the project to its completion often results in an evolution of the company business outlook that makes many stakeholders forget the original goals. The result in a success evaluation grid comprising elements that do not reflect the original objectives. For example, the realization of the usual returns on a project may have been sacrificed at inception in favor of sustainability, the overall performance of the business or risk diversification. I noted that once a project is ongoing managers too often forget the fundamental objectives they wanted to achieve with this project. If the goal was to open a new market this is the key criterion for evaluation and the profitability of the project itself becomes a relative criterion.
It is essential that each project manager keeps prominently in mind the expectations of the company for the project. Throughout the project, the achievement of the objectives should remain the guide orienting his decisions based. His performance should be evaluated based on the achievement of the clear objectives that justified the choice of the project. In addition, clear targets enable the monitoring to ensure that the objectives are still valid and achievable.
In a slow economy, a company may choose to bid lower prices. The project objectives are therefore intended to maintain expertise but achieving a given level of profitability is not part of the objectives. The bid for a fixed-price project is won and accepted by all. During the following months, the company’s directors are replaced and an economic recovery takes hold. In another context, there will be tenders to expand in new markets to diversify risk or aiming at cracking open a market of the future knowing that profitability is not at the rendezvous. For another company, it will at great expense implement changes to a system to comply with a new legislation. Or build an infrastructure in winter despite higher costs in response to a particular event. No doubt you have your own examples.
Without explicit targets, a project manager will have difficulty in justifying low profitability to new directors. If he is forced to pursue irreconcilable objectives, it may be that neither the original targets or the new targets will be reached.
Properly applied this approach of continuity, highlighted as strategically important by Prince2, avoids turning into a bad project what could have been a winning project. Demonstrating that the resources have been used for projects that served the business objectives, will also have a positive impact on the perception of shareholders that for state-owned-enterprises are the citizens they are mandated to serve.