3 key principles to reduce project failure

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3 key principles to reduce project failure
3 key principles to reduce project failure

The exact failure rate of projects is difficult to capture, but it's approximately 40%-70%. While there is no consensus on this figure, there is agreement about what is needed to improve successes.

Dennis Comninos, internationally recognised author and consultant, and programme director of the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business Strategic Project Management programme, says that it starts with taking a strategic approach to project management.

“Strategic project management has taken centre stage in today’s turbulent and complex environment and is a core skill for senior, portfolio, project and programme managers,” he says.

According to Comninos, successful projects revolve around four distinct components: choosing the right project, having the right organisational support, defining goals well, and executing it all smoothly.

“Traditional project management tends to focus on planning and execution,” he says. “Strategic project management broadens this to focus additionally on project selection and garnering full organisational support and integrates processes, tools and technology, people, and organisational culture to succeed. It takes the holistic view of an organisation’s resources and its goals.”

The aim is to ensure allocated resources are put to the most efficient use and that every step in the project processes is executed in a way that has a lasting impact on the organisation. Project managers can achieve this by focusing on three key principles: capturing real-time knowledge and sharing it across the enterprise; streamlining communication for improved collaboration; and minimising waste to save on resources.

Capturing knowledge ensures organisational learning

“Being able to identify and capture knowledge more effectively, including channelling organisational wisdom, is at the heart of all project success,” says Comninos.

Research by UCT research student Terry van Graan shows that capturing and sharing the right knowledge is strategically critical in today’s business environment that is characterised by increasingly complex operational challenges, more geographically dispersed teams, more data, information and technology, and a haemorrhaging of experienced practitioners across sectors.

“Knowledge and, indeed, wisdom can be used to reduce project time, reduce costs, improve quality and improve customer satisfaction as well as minimise the need for reinventing the wheel,” says Van Graan.

Van Graan shows that only 20% of an organisation’s knowledge is explicit, in the forms of documents, procedures, processes and databases. The other 80% is tacit, in the form of undocumented, unshared, untapped know-how. To be effective, organisations have to find ways to leverage the tacit knowledge that exists in the heads of professionals who experience the projects firsthand and convert it into easily accessible explicit knowledge that can be used to guide future projects.

“It is about capturing what we learn today for what we’ll be doing tomorrow,” says Comninos.

Improved communication improves collaboration

One of the indicators that organisations are not capturing and using knowledge effectively is the radical growth in corporate emails. A recent report by technology market research firm, The Radicati Group Incorporated, shows that the typical corporate user in 2009 sent and received 167 messages daily. This is expected to grow to 219 messages daily this year.

A far more effective use of technology to improve communication and knowledge flow is social media. A McKinsey Global Institute study shows that for 4 200 major companies, social media unlocked 1.3-trillion dollars, two-thirds of which is due to improved communication and collaboration.

“Making it easier for teams inside and outside of the organisation to communicate with each other makes collaboration seamless and reduces losses in productivity and time,” says Comninos.

Reducing waste improves gains

The principle of reducing waste applies to areas other than time. A notorious example of how reducing the use of electricity, for example, translates into monetary gain is that of IBM saving 442 million dollars by reducing its energy use between 1990 and 2011. By applying smart technology and smart building approaches, the company could use energy in ways that were efficient and had the most impact for any given project on any given day.

According to Anthony Nartey, sustainability consultant and chief executive of Cape Town-based consultancy, Innov8 Africa, up to 50% of energy and water used in buildings is wasted on average. And, he says, taking a smarter approach to energy use can save an organisation as much as 40% on energy costs, 50% on water, and up to 30% on building maintenance.

“Reducing waste across the organisation saves money that can be used to finance more projects or improve support for current ones,” says Comninos.

It is only by taking this strategic approach that project managers will be able effectively to manage projects that add the most strategic value to their organisations, says Comninos. And having the right knowledge, seamless communication channels, and the ability to cut down on waste improves decision making, team design, organisational support and project selection in the future, all of which will help in keeping project failures to a minimum.

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