An owner’s readiness to the success or failure of projects is not limited to major projects as described by Prieto (PM World Journal, Volume III, Issue 1, January 2014, entitled “Owner’s Readiness Index”) although this provides a useful background for discussion. Experience suggests risks to all projects unless certain owner elements are in place to enable project success. I will briefly touch upon some of these elements.
These elements are structured in the following areas.
- Owner readiness with respect to clearly articulated strategic business objectives.
- Owner readiness with respect to a clearly articulated decision framework and process.
- Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution.
Owner readiness with respect to strategic business objectives
Vulnerabilities can unwittingly enter owner readiness like any human-designed system. This can especially be true when owners lack project experience and attempt to manage myriad relationships that are so complex that they can defy thorough understanding. There are several dimensions to this shortcoming to include:
- Poorly defined or articulated vision, mission and objectives.
- Inadequate alignment between various partners including elected officials, appointed officials, interest groups, planners and executors, the public and similar or corresponding partners in the private sector.
- Inadequate communication and support of the “intent” to include the vision, mission and objectives.
Thinking through a strategy with clearly defined objectives requires experience. If this is not done well from the beginning then the project is at risk and the likelihood of failure increases. This is made increasingly complicated since many owner partnerships with differing agendas may be involved. Public sector partnerships might include federal, state and local elected and appointed officials, planners and executors, interest groups and private sector expertise as an extension of the public workforce. A similar collection of partnerships may exist with private sector owners.
While alignment and buy-in are essential to the success of any project, this is greatly facilitated by strong leadership and direction. Moreover, the strategy, to include the strategic business objectives, must be continuously communicated and supported. This greatly impacts maintaining alignment.
Inadequate focus on the strategy and strategic business objectives also allows biases to enter the process, causing increased risks to include delays, uncertainty and confusion. The assumption that there is a shared understanding of the strategy and strategic business objectives may result in suboptimal performance, delays and even failure.
Owner’s readiness with respect to decision framework and process
Planning and execution frameworks and processes greatly impact project success. As such, owners must have a secure grasp on these frameworks to provide stability and direction through the processes. These include but are not limited to:
- Business model and scenarios with regards to the project.
- Governance structure that provides clear leadership, accountability, alignment and confidence in the strategy.
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities to include an approval matrix and constraints. Executive involvement must be defined as a part of this without inhibiting the initiative of planners and executors.
- Phasing and who needs to be involved at each phase.
- Process clarity and timing to include approvals.
Decision frameworks and processes are key dimensions of an owner’s readiness. As such, owners must have a secure handle on them to provide stable and confident leadership and direction. As with the strategy and strategic business objectives, an assumption that there is a shared understanding can be a significant risk to project success.
Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution
The owner’s organization must have a clearly defined capability to provide oversight of project implementation, to include planning and execution. This includes:
- An ability to assess his or her own project team’s performance, partly to ensure they are enabling contractors and consultants to implement the project efficiently and effectively while not duplicating efforts or erecting barriers to success.
- Ensure reports on project progress are efficiently provided to partners and stakeholders.
- Ensure that the project is in compliance with the scope, schedule and budget and clearly defined in the contract and as augmented by other administrative requirements.
- Ensure that plans and execution approaches are aligned and staffed with individuals with the right competencies to achieve the strategic business objectives. Plans should support required owner approvals and associated processes.
The owner’s strategy for a successful project must be supported by strong leadership and a transparent and clear business strategy. A shared understanding of the strategy, strategic business objectives, decision framework and process, planning and execution is key to project success. The assumption that a shared understanding exists puts a project at significant risk.
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”