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

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.