Champion or Underperformer #16 #cong18


Ideas are worthless unless they can be delivered on time, to budget and achieving the anticipated benefits.
Delivery is usually by means of a project, programme or change activity but success in doing so is variable.
This blog describes an assurance process that significantly increases the likelihood of success and has been well proven in many other countries and businesses.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Independent peer review, a critical friend
  2. Supportive to the idea owner and delivery team
  3. A snapshot in the lifecycle of an idea
  4. Virtuous spiral of improvement

About Paul Passemard:

I am an engineer by background with 25 years experience in the oil industry in operations and major project and programme delivery. At the height of the UK’s North Sea Oil development I managed an oil industry consortium aimed at improving the performance of suppliers to the offshore industry
In 1989 I formed a management consultancy focussing on quality assurance and high performance team working. Through assignments with the UK’s HM Treasury I played a key role in developing the Gateway Process and rolling it out across central government departments and local authorities.
I am an experienced Gateway Reviewer and have led major project and programme reviews across the UK.

Contacting Paul Passemard:

You can contact Paul by eMail.

By Paul Passemard

Are you and your business a Champion or an Underperformer when it comes to taking ideas and delivering them as projects to a successful conclusion?
In 2013 50% of businesses surveyed by the Project Management Institute (PMI based in the UK) experienced an IT project failure. In 2014 it fell to 32% but rose again in 2016 to 55%.
Last year (2017) PMI used a slightly different approach and it separated respondents to the survey into Champions and Underperformers
Champions are those organisations that see 80% or more of ideas / projects being completed on-time, on-budget and meeting original goals and business intent, and that have high benefits realization maturity. In other words, their ideas / projects deliver the promised business outcomes.
Underperformers are those organisations that see 60% or fewer ideas / projects completed on-time, on-budget and meeting original goals and business intent, and with low benefits realisation maturity.
The research showed that within these categories, only 6% of Champions experienced ideas / projects deemed failures, compared to 24% of Underperformers. Overall, all organisations reduced the average amount of money wasted on progressing ideas. projects and programmes by 20% compared to the previous year.
Some reasons for the improvement:-
• maturing project management techniques – use of a project management office
• skilled project managers
• focus on benefits realisation
• peer engagement and assurance techniques.

Much has already been written about project (and programme) management techniques but I would like to describe an assurance process that has been effectively used in the public and private sectors to significantly increase the likelihood of delivering ideas, projects, programmes and other change activities on time, to budget and achieving the expected benefits. The process has been adopted across the public sectors in many developed countries in the western world. Sadly, although it is widely used across the public sector in Northern Ireland, the Republic has so far not adopted it.
Private sector businesses and industries have used the process for many years and have developed their own variations.
It is called the Gateway process and is a series of independent peer reviews at key stages of a project’s lifecycle, aimed at ensuring its successful delivery.
The process provides an objective view of the ability of a project to deliver on time and to budget.
It is not part of the project management process but runs in parallel with it and dips in at key decision stages..
The review is top down, evidence-based and involves interviews with key stakeholders culminating in a report, delivered to the project owner (the Senior Responsible Owner, SRO in government speak) on the final day of the review. This report is confidential to the SRO, containing recommendations based on the review team’s findings. In light of the recommendations, a Delivery Confidence Assessment (DCA) is awarded, indicating the potential for successful delivery.
The confidentiality aspect is important as the review is not seen as punitive or blaming anyone and project teams regard them as helpful and supportive.
A Gateway review is not an audit or a forensic examination of what has happened to date. It will only look backwards sufficiently to understand the current status and position of the project. The focus then is on the future and aims to identify risks that could derail or adversely affect the delivery of the idea / project.
Review teams are made up of independent, experienced practitioners who bring their prior knowledge and skills to bear to identify the key issues that need to be addressed for the project to succeed.
Interviews with key members of the project team may sound a bit intimidating but in reality they are more like fireside discussions. The ground rules are that project team members are interviewed individually so they can be open and honest, what they say is unattributable, they are not named in the report and if they identify an issue the review team will triangulate and test with other interviewees to establish that it is an issue perceived by more than one person and not just an individual having a personal gripe.
The Gateway process may sound a bit cumbersome and require too much effort for simpler ideas and smaller projects. The process can however be scaled to suit the size and complexity of the project and it is usual to set a de minimis cut off point.
Gateway reviews can be carried out at any time in the life of an idea / project.
Typically the key decision points are:-

  • strategic assessment
  • business justification
  • delivery strategy
  • investment decision
  • readiness for service
  • operations review and benefits realisation.

But the process is flexible and if a project owner senses that all is not well they can call in a Gateway review.
One question that is often asked is – do the reviewers need special knowledge about a particular project or programme? This aspect is often covered by having one member on the review team who has some expertise in the area concerned. However it is not essential as the issues that emerge are almost never to do with the technology of the project: they are invariably about the management, organisation and resources allocated to the activity.
There is good documentation of the areas that a review team should probe but it is not a strait jacket and experienced reviewers quickly home in on the real issues.
From an analysis of past reviews the following are some of the main causes of ideas / project and programme failure:-

  • Poorly defined scope
  • Inadequate risk management and failure to identify key assumptions
  • Programme and project managers who lack experience and training
  • No use of formal methods and strategies
  • Lack of effective governance (decision making) and communication at all levels

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