April 3 2024
Author Luke Bellamy

A Guide to Successful Project Delivery (Part 1)

At the onset of any project, many project managers hold to the hope and optimism that everything will unfold seamlessly with little to no negative impact on the wider business operations. As most well know however, unforeseen challenges always threaten to disrupt the planned course of action. Identifying potential project pitfalls and formulating robust contingency plans is crucial to avoid unnecessary delays. 

Successfully steering a project requires more than just a comprehension of project management methodologies; it involves adeptly addressing challenges by leveraging prior experience and the application of that learning to minimise any disruption during the project lifecycle. 

Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned project manager, it’s essential to acknowledge the common challenges that can pose a threat to the success of a project. In this 2-part series I’ll walk you through 8 of the most common obstacles I’ve encountered during an implementation: 

1) Project planning

Recent studies have shown that 46% of projects failures can be attributed to a lack of planning, or the absence of an agreed and visible project plan. Poor planning can lead to increased costs and severe delays to project delivery.  

A solid project plan should outline goals, tasks, resources, budgets, and timelines. It should not only define the essential components of the project, but also include strategies and approaches to achieve desired goals. Additionally, the project plan must clearly assign responsibilities to individuals, ensuring accountability and clarity throughout the project’s duration. 

Creating a project plan and sticking to it may seem obvious, but it is often misunderstood how crucial this is to the success of any delivery. While creating a solid project plan can be tough initially, it pays off in the end, as sufficient planning sets the course for your team’s success.  

Your project plan acts as a roadmap that can be adjusted as needed – this allows you to adapt to changes, spot risks, and tackle challenges more effectively, while limiting their impact. The key thing here is visibility – the more people that see your project plan, the more input and expertise project planners can draw on to help spot potential pitfalls. 

2) Ownership and support

Studies show that 62% of successfully completed projects had supportive sponsors, and that projects where stakeholders made decisions within an hour had a 40% higher project success rate when compared to those where decisions took 5+ hours.  

This isn’t to say that decisions need to be instant, however it does emphasise the need for ownership of the process throughout the project lifecycle. Stakeholders who lack interest or involvement can be a considerable impediment, potentially stalling or completely halting the progress of an entire project.  

Failure to engage stakeholders can result in a lack of insight into their needs and expectations. This might lead to decisions that don’t match stakeholder demands. Stakeholders often offer valuable insights, expertise and viewpoints that can enhance project outcomes. However, the introduction of key stakeholders part-way through a project can potentially cause even greater issues, through a difference of opinions towards scope, new ideas and a change in decision makers. 

To counteract this and ensure all parties have clear roles and accountabilities, you should establish upfront the key stakeholders for any business units which have a touch point with the project. Be sure to include clear guidance on who is responsible for which decisions. There are a couple of methods you can use to do this: 

  • Leverage a RACI chart – This is a responsibility matrix for projects, establishing the Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed stakeholders. This sets out clear guidance and can be agreed upon at the offset of the project. 
  • Consider suitable communication channels – How often should interactions occur? What do you plan to establish from those interactions? What are the methods used for collecting feedback? 
  • Help to simplify the project for busy stakeholders – Use project visualisations, so that project managers, team members, and stakeholders can easily track changes and updates. Many find visual representations more helpful than standard emails or spreadsheets. 
  • Build and sustain relationships with stakeholders – Encourage an open dialogue and integrate their input into project decision-making processes to make them feel like a valued member of the team.

3) Scope management

Project managers often make the mistake of accepting every requested change, causing the project’s scope to constantly change and introducing a real risk to the success of the delivery. This does not mean we should ignore the need for changes to the project’s scope. Scope adjustments are common during implementations, often due to increased product demand or during process discussions where something might have been overlooked. 

Contrary to most assumptions, the entirety of the project team is responsible for managing the scope of a delivery. The delivery team by ensuring what they deliver is covered both legally and commercially, and the customer by certifying that they are not expanding or redesigning a carefully planned backlog of scope.  

It is a project managers responsibility to manage scope adjustments, and neglecting this can result in slippage in both timelines and the quality of a product. To mitigate this risk, there are two clear actions which can be taken: 

  • Establish a ‘design authority’, made up of key decision makers, product owners and technical advisors. This can help to establish roles and responsibilities, by sending any change requests through a pre-defined pathway, so that it can be properly analysed using the ‘Project Management Triangle’ – assessing the scope, time and cost. 
  • Consider the external factors around this change. For example, do you have adequate resources to fulfil the change? Will this impact any further phases? Will this have a detrimental effect on what has already been built previously?

4) Managing deadlines and expectations

Although the end goal of any delivery is to please the customer, there are no advantages to establishing an unrealistic deadline. In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect and erode customer’s confidence.  

It is important to set realistic and achievable goals upfront. Aiming for an unrealistic target can seriously impact the confidence of a project team, lowering their morale and productivity. Instead, explain to stakeholders why a deadline may not be realistic. They will appreciate your honesty, and if you’re reasonable, will help to set a clear pathway to more achievable targets. 

Regular project reporting is also essential for keeping stakeholders updated on project progress. By providing frequent updates, project managers can help stakeholders to visualise the project’s progress and make informed decisions. This transparent communication allows for adjustments in expectations as the project evolves, ensuring that all parties involved remain informed and can actively contribute to the project’s success. 

Join me again for part 2 of this series where we’ll be looking at some of the hurdles imposed by an overreliance on data, poor communication and issues caused by poor change management.  

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