Good commissioning, prerequisite for project success !?

Commissioning, the underexposed factor for success or failure of projects?!

For years now we have read the numbers and percentages published by institutes like Gartner and Forrester on project results. 40% fails and the other 60% are questionable as to the result being what was intended at the start of the project and/or the time and/or money is exceeded. (*). Not something to be proud of as a project manager.

But is it just the project manager we need to blame?

To answer that question we must evaluate the circumstances in which the project manager is doing his or her job.
Projects do succeed within organisations so apparently it is no ‘mission impossible’; a comforting thought!

What is the discriminating factor between organisations in which projects succeed and organisations where they don’t?
Not the project managers working for those organisations; these are sometimes hired from the same suppliers and/or work in organisations of both categories with varying success.

To determine one of the contributing factors that is influencing projects in a negative or positive way we need to look at the organisation as a whole.

In an average organisation the employees have a specific task in the daily operation of the organisation. They are hired because of the qualities they possess to execute their assigned tasks and are being evaluated on basis of that execution. The manager is evaluated on basis of the performance of the employees in his/her department. In most cases, projects are the exception to the daily routine, often with the intention to achieve certain strategic advantages that are difficult to achieve within the normal line structure of the organisation or to effectuate changes that need a separate organisation to implement.

When a project is announced it is expected that the employees that are involved cooperate with the project.  The project manager presents his project plan (PID in Prince2 terminology) in which project goals are defined and for every department the necessary time and effort to achieve those goals. Does this automatically create the willingness and motivation to contribute to this important task?

Generally no, because in 99% of all cases one is expected to contribute to the projects next to the tasks one performs in the daily operation on which the employee evaluation is based; ergo the promotion, raise and/or bonus is in jeopardy (not withstanding the threat most people experience in a changing environment).
To simply refuse is usually not an option, but it is clear that every time the employee needs to choose between the daily tasks and a project task, the choice for the daily task takes priority resulting in, at least, delay of the project. This phenomena is common practice in spite of the fact that the line organisation has agreed to the effort of its employees for the project; the focus of the employees is with the operation, the daily routine. A root cause for potential project failure has been institutionalised!

How to prevent this from happening?

The importance of projects in an organisation needs to be emphasized by appointing someone at board level to be responsible for projects  (Chief Project Officer) and the components of the salary and evaluation of employees need to include the effort and contribution to projects.
This can only be successfully implemented if the employees are allowed the time to execute the project tasks and therefore reduce the workload for the daily tasks and not expecting as a given that ‘during construction the shop stays open’. One way of doing that is to budget every project as if the hours needed are to be purchased externally (contracted) so there is room to hire temporary people for the daily tasks, if necessary.

Also important is to select and recruit employees for ‘project potential’, i.e. not only check for capabilities to perform the routine tasks but also for possibilities in employees to contribute to projects and add expertise. For existing employees it can be advantageous to focus on project tasks in educational programs and/or ‘in house’ trainings.

Employees in many organisations feel ‘company pride’; on birthdays, weddings etc. one speaks of our company, but projects seldom appear in those conversations or are mentioned as his or her project, referring to the project manager.

Applying the above recommendations should eliminate this distinction!

Admittedly, projects can still fail. The world around us changes in such a speed that a good idea today may be a bad idea tomorrow, but an adequate organisation sees to it that everyone involved in a project also benefits from the success of that project; the chances of success are largely increased that way.

J.H. (Jan) Seijerlin
Sr. Projectmanager/Consultant

ICT Projectmanagement Anssems

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