Caught in a Time Wrap!

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Large construction and erection projects seem to have a dubious record – most of them are delayed with significant cost overruns. The problem of delayed projects is well documented in statistics released by various government agencies, not only in India but also in countries like US and Japan. While statistics in public domain are mostly that of work executed by government agencies but the story in private sector is equally bad. Not much statistics is available in public domain. We at Vector Consulting Group have come across many organizations which have a perfect record – never in the history have they ever delivered a large capital project on initially committed due date with full scope, while being within budget. The ones which claim to be on-time is mostly on revised due dates. It is not that all projects are delayed. However a highly successful project, delivered ahead of time while being within budget is such a rare event that it usually ends up as a newspaper item.

“We-should-have-planned-better” Syndrome

Most of the analysis of delayed projects point to numerous uncertainties which seem to be out of locus of control of management. Most project managers will point to issues like

  • Delays in decisions/approvals
  • Scope changes /Rework
  • Delays in appointment of contractors/vendors
  • Bad weather
  • Inadequate resources or incompetent contractors
  • And…

The list can go on and on. Can we improve the situation? For answers, let us look at the existing body of knowledge of project management. It talks about implementing numerous tools, templates and processes in areas of integration management, scope management, time, cost, quality, human resource, risk, communication and procurement management to solve the problem. Interesting enough most of the processes are in the domain of planning.

So if we plan better, we can deliver better. Or in other words, the better we are in envisaging the future and plan for it, the better will be the reality. But reality is so cruel – however good plan we make, uncertainties spoil the show in no time. It is no wonder that despite the widely held belief (great planning leads to great delivery), in many environments the plans are not even made or made just to show it to outside agencies.

The initial plans, made with enthusiasm of starting the project go haywire within no time and rest of the project is managed based on perception of urgency of the day in the mind of the project manager. Let us try and analyse further. The fact is most projects are delayed. Another fact is, in many projects, planning is neglected. But how do we know that the cause “improper planning” leads to the effect of “delayed projects”? If improper planning was the reason for delayed projects, then why do managers not plan better using all the established processes and tools of planning and solve the problem? I would assume that after one failed project, managers would follow all the established guidelines and planning processes and we should have much better record of project performance. But still after many years of development of project management body of knowledge, a project delivered ahead of time and within budget and full scope is rare.

Every project starts with a plan which goes haywire when uncertainty hits the project. We all turn wise with hindsight. But then we cannot go back in time and change reality. How sad! It looks so hopeless. Is their a better, simpler and a practical way to solve the seemingly complex problem? Is their an inherent simplicity hidden in the complexity of managing a large erection project involving many stake holders?

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