Project Fantasy v Reality Check

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There’s a common fantasy in Project Teams that ‘the worst is behind us’ coupled with ‘the future is bright’.

Nothing wrong with a spot of optimism but on projects the past really does predict the future.

If you get off to a bad start it’s difficult to turn that around. The genesis of your problems will cast a long shadow onto future events. Small problems loom large.

The scenario can go like this. The project is rocky. A few senior people take the fall and are replaced. Corporate oversight is increased. More effort is applied. Progress is tracked more closely. But if the root causes of the chaos (it’s rarely only one root cause) are not examined, discussed and fixed then the chaos will continue.

If (say) project funding is a problem then changes to the project team will only increase the chaos.

 

Sources of Chaos

Let’s look at some of sources of chaos and see how they affect projects. I’ve went through every one of these and came out covered in scar tissue btw.

To start – ‘projects are temporary organisations established to manage an established outcome whose scope, duration and budget are rationally derived’.

The temporary aspect generates serious issues. The scramble to kick off a project has to be seen to be believed.

1: Location Location Location

A) I was once part of a world-class bid that failed because the proposed location for the project office was driven by a corporate need to fill an empty building under lease, not because it made project sense. The potential client was not amused. But, if we’d won the job then the hapless Project Manager would have struggled to get people to work on the ‘wrong-side’ of the city. Which is why the property was unoccupied in the first place.

B) I started a project where there was no office available for us or the client. The only suitable office was occupied by another project. Appealing to Corporate I was told to ‘fight the incumbent PM and take the space’. When I went to see ‘my director’ to say that my appeals had went unnoticed he said, ‘no Jim, I mean you will actually have to physically fight him’. I couldn’t box eggs – so it wasn’t a feasible scenario.

C) I had a project where my team, the client and the site were in 3 different countries. The outcome hardly needs to be aired in public.

Two: Project Funding

A) Projects are often under-funded. The mechanism may be that the project outcome cost was kept low to get through the funding committee. The PM has to live with that one.

B) The decision on the draw-down of funds is held by someone not on the project. They can save their company money by slowing funds to a trickle. “PMs are such needy people anyway, always overstating the case”.

Three: Project Personnel

Often projects are loaded up at the start with sub-optimal people because…

a) other projects are trying to shed them

b) they’re on the shelf in Corporateland (because they’re not wanted on projects)

c) it’s all that the resourcing guys could find at short notice (there is no other kind of resourcing notice)

Four: Readiness to Launch

Chaotic precursors (at various stages)

A) No/Slow-start because the basic elements of a project are not in place.

B) Permissions to start work not complete. Clients often urge a quick start before the paperwork is completed.

C) Changes to scope. Usually from 2 sources. The changes held back because the bid process was ongoing and changes emanating from the incomplete design (eg concept)

Five: Others Worth a Mention

  • Purchasing started before the design is complete
  • Client’s team nowhere in sight
  • Client offloads all his scrap onto your project

Six…. well you get the message. The genesis of chaos is right a the start of every project, often well before the project is sanctioned

The Bad News.

There is no way to avoid these problems. No way in hell.

 

Ends

NATO – I hope these guys don’t intend to fight a war any time soon

images-2The NATO Headquarters will be in the news this week. For all the wrong reasons.

 

 

Most of the project tools we use originate from the military. Critical Path Networking (Nuclear Submarines), Supply Chain Management, Cost Controls, etc.

But it seems that when it comes to using these tools to build a new headquarters the tools weren’t applied.

BUT – any project launched by an organisation of 29 countries to be run by the Belgian Authorities has one foot in the grave and the other on a skateboard.

The project was sanctioned in 1999. The project got underway in 2010.

The original budget was Euro 457.6 Million. A UK company called BAM UK won the contract at Euro 650 million but the Belgian Authority squeezed that down to Euro 240 million.

BAM UK ‘s motto is ‘we deliver what we promised on time and on budget. The final price will be in excess of Euro 1.4 Billion and it’s 4 years late.

The original project duration was 4 years. BAM UK managed to have that increased to 6 years. So, completion in 2016. It’s being opened this week mid-2018.

The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week ‘that the building met it’s original budget and is only a year late’.

I suspect that the building is far from complete and that all cranes have been taken off site until President Trump goes to hit the white ball. But before he leaves that Euro 1.4 billion is going on Twitter.

A thought. Would your company have taken that project on?

My view?  I’d have grabbed that baby with both hands and dived in head first from a very great height.

Because. 1) NATO pay their bills 2) growth couldn’t be anything else but exceptionally high 3) the project would never be cancelled (too political) 4) it’s managed by the Belgian Authorities (Yahooooooo!!!!)

As I said in a previous blog What if a Risk Was An Opportunity in Disguise? This is a good example.

All it would remain to do is to mobilise a Claims Director as the first person on the project.

Ends.

 

The Project HSE Risk You Haven’t Spotted Because It’s So Gigantic

This HSE Risk Cannot be Seen With A Magnifying Glass

HSE has gotten pretty good over the years. PPE, Tool-Box Talks, Awareness and so on. All great initiatives that have save many lives and prevented uncountable injuries. But there is a macro-risk that goes unnoticed. A risk that can be identified but usually in retrospect.

It’s a risk that can force people on site to take unnecessary risks, seek shortcuts and put people in danger. It’s hard to spot because it doesn’t show up on site, it’s a risk-mechanism that started (perhaps) even before design began,

If the managers on site stick strictly to their procedures they can avoid the danger but when pressure grows there can be a tendency to waive the rules.

So, what is this monster? How can this HSE risk manifest itself in the early phases of the project and yet no-one sought to stamp on it?

Well it’s because the people who created the monster and the people who have to deal with it never meet. They live in two different worlds. And the HSE Department is in neither.

The monster’s name? The Fixed End Date.

Doesn’t sound very scary or unmanageable, does it? But it is.

The Fixed End Date appears around the time the project is sanctioned and funded. The profitability of the venture depends on the date being met. All of the finance revolves around that event. Nobody from HSE is in the loop.

The project players say the date isn’t fixed. It’s variable with a confidence range (+20%/ – 10% is tossed around at that time) BUT when someone senior enough sets a date it hardens quicker than fast-drying cement.

The other factor is that the date may have been chosen to suit a non-project objective. Nothing to do with ROI but could be about a royal opening, prestige, a gong for the company owner. A host of reasons that fix the date in solid stone. And the project manager isn’t selected yet.

Let’s skip to the period in time when the end date looms large. All of the activities are either critical or loaded with negative float. Additional work that has been hidden forces it’s way onto the agenda. The secret life of the project bursts out into the open like an alien out of John Hurt’s chest.

Someone pushes the red button. The people on site take incoming. The monster rears it’s head.

The long lunches at sanction stage, the prevarication/ procrastination/ political infighting – all forgotten. The task now is to get the welders to weld faster. The drive is to flood the worksites with men, machinery and equipment. The bugle calls up a night-shift, a back-shift, a miracle. A window opens and Commonsense throws itself out.

The project enters a fugue state where there is a hunt for the guilty and punishment for the innocent because the Great Fixed Deadline Has Not Been Met!!!!! And nobody told ME.

Of course, a welder cannot weld faster and the only possible outcome from throwing people into the breech is a steep rise in the probability of an accident. All because a group of people in the possession of scant knowledge with only a vague plan set a Fixed End Date for the project a long long time ago.

The only thing the Project Manager can do is to run a copy of all the weekly, monthly and quarterly reports that showed the real and moving end-date as identified by the Critical Path Network from when he started on the project right up till time now.

If Project Managers don’t have that paperwork? Then hell mend then.

 

Ends

 

 

 

 

 

The Project Stockholm Syndrome

image of an armed man holding hostagesimage of an armed man threatening hostages

 

 

 

 

The Stockholm Syndrome was spotted after a robbery in Sweden in the 1970 where bank employees were held hostage. It’s a syndrome where hostages bond with their captors. The hostages develop strong emotional ties with the people who intimidate them.

Sound familiar? Well, it’s happening on your construction sites right now. No, no – stop arguing – right now, check it out.

In a work and contractual situation your people are not hostages and your clients are not captors, but your people on site and the client’s people on site form emotional bonds. I first noticed this when I started working offshore. The client, contractors and sub-contractors formed a bond that excluded anyone who did not work on the platform. People up and down the organization who worked onshore (The Beach) were ‘Them’. The people who stopped us offshore tigers from getting on with it.

So, does it matter?

Well in one area of a contractual relationship it matters a great deal and that’s where it comes to changes in the scope of work or in the way the work is done.

Your people on site are doing extra work or working in a non-contractual way and not only are you not going to get paid for it, you’re not going to find out about it.

Here’s some thoughts.

Contractual Changes Not Associated With the Scope of Work

If your guys (this is my unisex description of anybody on a site) work a 10-hour day as proscribed in the contract, and they have an established number of breaks and non-productive activities (gather tools, walk to work, eat lunch, clean site) then the productive time is (say) 6.5 hours a day. That’s what should be in your schedule.

It’s common on site to think that a 30-hour job will be done by one man in 3 days but it’s 5.3 days for 1 man (because the guy only spends 6.5 hours a day digging).

If the client issues the work permits 30 minutes late and collects them 15 minutes early then your productive day is reduced to 5.75 hours per day. But your schedule is still running on a 6.5-hour productive day. That’s approximately an 11.5% reduction in the day.

This means that your remaining duration will be 11.5% longer that your plan shows.

Lesson 1. A change in work practice is a change and should be managed by the Change Control Procedure and after approvals should be translated into Schedule, Cost and Risk. In the above example the job is going to take 11.5% longer, it’s going to cost more and the risk to the Project Completion Date is high.

But that’s not the full problem – the Project Management Team may not know about it because your people and the client’s people are either a) not aware of what’s in the contract or b) not aware of the ‘productive day’ or c) they’re doing a Stockholm. All three may be going on at once.

Contractual Changes to the Scope of Work.

Let’s start with: what’s the difference between extra scope and ‘a favour’?  If you’ve ever worked on site you’ll know what a favour is. A small piece of work that would be administratively difficult to get done (let’s say paint a weld on an adjacent line while the scaffolding is up). Favours oil the wheels of co-operation. No big thing.

But extra scope is anything that’s not specified in the contract. And extra scope should be checked by the client’s engineers – because what seems like an insignificant change to the untrained eye can lead to a disaster. Lesson 2. Turning a blind eye isn’t just doing work for ‘free’ it’s enabling illegal modifications to be done.

The Stockholm Syndrome Can Be Very Dangerous.

You’re working away on site and you go to fit a 6-inch valve. But it’s not there, the client has given you an 8-inch valve. The situation should have been spotted a long time ago but the QA and Materials guys in both organisations didn’t want to upset anyone. They’re ‘Stockholm’d’ up to the eyeballs and back.

Normally an event like this would cause a kerfuffle, but not on a Stockholm Syndrome site. Here two extra 8-inch flanges appear along with 2 x 8-inch to 6-inch reducers. The work is done (the night-shift is the usual place to do it) and everybody is happy. No feathers ruffled, all is wonderful.

The puzzling thing is – they can’t get the proper valve but they can get more flanges and reducers?

The next guys into the breach are the QA guys. The extra welds and bigger valve aren’t on the P&IDs or the Isometric drawing. They flag up a non-compliance immediately and cry havoc – not!

No, they show the change on the red-line drawings to have it as-built later.

Lesson 3. All down the line an illegal and potentially disastrous change has been made. No engineering input, no change register note, no nothing. And nobody at HQ knows about it. Guess whose neck will be on the chopping block if something happens?

(Insert your answer to this here)

What can be done? Lots of things but reviews by an independent department who is not in the Stockholm Loop would go a long way to fix it. Corporate QC Department? Project Director overview?

Here’s my favoured ways to spot it.

1) Every project has changes. That’s a fact. On a well organised project changes might be expected to generate 1 x major and 10 x other change requests a month. On a project that is chaotic it could be 10 x major and 100 x minor a month. Start from there, expect changes.

I don’t have any figures for this but an experienced client and/or contractor could produce historical figures that would give the Project Management Team an idea of what volume be expected. Example: a $XXX valued project could expect claims to the value of $YY. Statistics showing the historical value of changes v original contract values would be helpful.

2) The number of change requests from site don’t match up with the volume of Engineering changes going through

3) If no changes emanate from site? Get your boots on and get down there. Something is going wrong.

 

Ends

The One Plan Every Project Needs (But Few Have)

 

Mobilisation Plan
This Plan Needs Many Disciplines

Plans, plans, plans. Every project has them coming out their ears. But there is one that sets the success. Miss this one, or get it wrong, and the project is gone before it’s started. Gone, baby, gone. Continue reading “The One Plan Every Project Needs (But Few Have)”

The Holy Grail of Projects – A Meaningful Risk Register

Holy-Grail-Projects-Risk
A Holy Grail May Be An Illusion

A Meaningful Risk Register – the Holy Grail. But more difficult to find

The main problem is, as can be expected, where to start?

Here’s an overview of how to go about it.

Avoid a ‘Risk Brainstorming Session’ like the plague. You’ll end up with a long list of risky events that happened to people on their last projects. The past is no predictor of the future when it comes to risk.

A look at a close-out review and lessons learned of a similar project is always worth while but few projects do them and even fewer file them where they can be found.

But anyway….

 

 

Gather Your Sources

Gather the 4 documents that contain the Genesis of All Risks

  1. The Contract
  2. The Project Plan (if you don’t have a real one then that’s your Number 1 Risk)
  3. The Cost Book
  4. The Project Location Map

Looking for Risk

The Contract

When a contract is awarded very few people, if anybody, will know what is actually in it. Legal will know the legal parts, Treasury the finance parts and so on. Who has read the document back to front and made notes on the differences between the contract as it was intended v actual contract that will be enforced on the project?

So – you’re looking for 2 things. The risks inherent in the intended contract and the changes made in the contract as negotiated and issued.

Specifically go through the Bid Q & A and check against the final contract – there are usually gaps or differences in interpretation.

Then check key phrases to look for…

  • Novation of Sub-Contracts
  • Early Milestone Dates. Specifically, ‘start work on site’ date.
  • First Deliverables Dates
  • Penalties
  • Client Generated Dates – Access to Site/ AFC Drawings/ Fee-issue Materials/ Project Start and Finish Dates
  • Insert your key phrase here – what contract clause gave you the greatest grief on your last/ current projects?

 

The Project Plan

At the start of projects there are 2 + ½ plans

  1. The one used in the bid. It will be optimistic because you want to win the contract. It will be aligned with the client’s milestone dates because you don’t want to put in a non-compliant bid AND you don’t have enough information for a proper plan AND you didn’t have enough resources to build a proper plan. This is probably the one you’re looking at. It’s toilet paper.
  2. The one you’re going to use to run the project. If you’re not planning to use a plan to run the project then you don’t need to read any further. Your project’s finished before it starts. This is also the plan mentioned in the contract where it says, ‘a full project plan will be issued by 28/35/42 (pick a number) days after award of contract’. It’s probably 14 or more days after contract signing right now and you don’t have any more information than what was available at bid stage.
  3. The ½ plan you think you have but you probably do not. The killer risk. The Mobilisation Plan. You don’t have a specific one, I know. Produce one now and hope it’s not a career buster.

Plan 3) is obviously a sub-set of plan 2) but make it a stand-alone plan. Because it is not a work plan (like – install a generator) it’s a business plan that will need the input from HQ, Resourcing, HR, Travel, Legal…and so on. Expert(s) on the location(s) of the project is essential. You need someone who really knows how it works out there. They’re quite easy to find, right after hen’s teeth and rocking-horse poo.

Whether the project is offshore/ inshore/ desert or tundra there is a unique set of circumstances around the mobilisation of personnel, equipment, offices, IT and a hundred other things you need to do a project.

Fact 1: If the project is in Iraq it takes 152 days to get a welder on site. And that’s after you have the in-country infrastructure in place. That number of days is not so different for Saudi or Offshore.

Stock up on Imodium and gather your people.

Now you’ve gathered all the risks, changes, half-truths, maybes and scraps of this and that, the only thing you can do is to update the plan as best you can using the latest dates (Time Now is a great phrase to throw around). Then run the network with no restraints. This is your plan.

Prepare for the Project Kick-Off Meeting with the client. Will you table the new plan? If not, this risk goes to the head of the queue.

 

The Cost Book

I love cost books. Especially the beginning where it says, ‘Once Upon a Time…’ although fairy stories usually have more substance.

Steps…

  • go through the spreadsheet and fix the errors There are always errors.
  • uncover hidden cells. Ask Google how to do it.
  • update the book against the Contract as Issued. (Mega Important Point)
  • update the book against the Plan you just revised. The Cost Book never ever matches up with the contract or the plan. After this exercise it might match for a week then the three documents will start to deviate again.
  • Identify how much you have for project contingency. Your financial wiggle-room.
  • Prepare to meet your boss to advise him on what you’ve found.
  • Phone the pharmacy and double the Imodium order.

Everything you found goes on the risk register – rank them in Cost Impact Order.

The biggest impact should be the fact the project end-date has moved substantially, but it could be anything.

 

The Project Location Map

This item may have puzzled some readers. Read on.

There is a sentence in your contract that says ‘the contractor will have visited the site and assured themselves that the work can be done’. Or similar.

When did the bid team have time to go to site or have access to it? It could be in the Gobi Desert or 50 Leagues Under the Sea or…

But that’s not the real problem – access to the site now is the issue. If it’s in Saudi you’re 42 days away from visiting the site (if you use a Businessman’s visa) or 70 days away (Work Visa) and they just get you to Khobar.

Time to revisit the Project Mobilisation Plan. Take a big syringe and inject a dose of realism into it.

The rubber, as they say, has met the road.

Now. If your company has never worked in the contract area or does not have someone experienced in the site area? You’ve found another Category 1 Risk.

For light relief Google the area. It will read…

‘UpYoursIstan has the hardest igneous rock known to man. The lower lying areas are subject to flooding for 11.5 months of the year. The judiciary have been executed following the last coup’.

Great pipeline country.

The Risk Register writes itself at this point.

 

Ends.