Taking a People-Centric Approach to Improving Project Success
About the Researcher: Paul Myers
Paul is a mature-age 3rd year PhD student. Having practised the science and art of project management for 40 years in multiple States, Countries, industries and disciplines, he brings a wealth of understanding of PM practice to his academic studies. There are few who cannot benefit from exposure to Paul’s knowledge, experience and wisdom gained by successfully delivering many landmark projects, including megaprojects.
It is well known that projects typically do not attain high average success rates and that to achieve an increased rate of success remains challenging. Flyvbjerg and Sunstein (2016) report an average cost overrun of 39% on a database of over 2,060 major projects across 103 Countries and six continents. Worse, some industry studies suggest that there has only been a modest improvement in the past several decades.
There is increasing evidence that the common thread in project failure is human behaviours with many pointing to project governance teams as well as behavioural biases in decision-making and Complexity, notwithstanding the project team and leadership in general.
Developing a better understanding of how people can be empowered and leveraged to improve project controllability is fundamental to finding a way forward to improving project success rates. This means re-imaging project management through a different ‘people-centric’ lens.
1.1 Problem Model
Building a problem model that represents the real world is fundamental to determining a solution model. To be successful, the problem model must take a holistic approach covering the full span of control, including commercial boundaries, decision-making biases, goal-conflicts, power in the relationships and project system impairments exhibited by people. In other words, represent the ‘worldview’.
Another aspect to be considered are the conditions necessary and sufficient to drive project success. Addressing success drivers using a suite of ‘dominant factors’ that when taken together, are both necessary and sufficient for success. The idea of ‘dominant factors’ is forward-looking. They address the critical matters that are needed to drive success from the start of the project. This approach contrasts with root cause analysis used in hindsight to determine (often singularly) what went wrong after the fact. The concept of dominant factors allows for the fact that they may exist as a blend and, as to which factors dominant a project at any point in time, depends on a wide range of circumstances.
1.2 Solution Model
As suggested above a complete project system that brings into play the many aspects of the problem model, including internal and external commercial boundaries that cover the full span of control is required. A baseline system model of current practice that uses the same thinking process can then be created for comparison. The two models created by the author to date are starkly different from each other, which demonstrates that a very promising line of enquiry is afoot. The model representing current day practice largely operates as a serial suite of open-loop control systems existing within each contributing organisation while the model built for study purposes is a holistic, collaborative closed-loop control system that can operate in near real-time. Feedback to address the range of dominant factors is applied as feedback signals to the system. The occurrence of risk events, being a disturbance to the project system, is catered for within the solution model, but this time with both feed-forward and feedback signals.
Call to Interested Parties
The first to solve the problem of how to move the project success ‘dial’ significantly in a positive direction is likely to be able to assert a significant competitive advantage over their commercial rivals.
If your organisation struggles with project delivery, is interested in improving delivery success rates, is desirous of developing a commercial market advantage, or just improving stakeholder value, please contact the author.
If your organisation would benefit from Paul’s studies and would like to participate for mutual learning, please contact Paul directly: