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May 2017 - Project Success Model

What makes a construction project successful? Most answer this question by saying that a project must be delivered on time and under budget. Totally makes sense, right? Those are certainly important, but equally important is the experience the project team members have while working together. “The team worked well together”, is a common saying after a successful project. The final product was of very high quality, and the team was extremely knowledgable, communicated well, and was very organized. All of these attributes contribute to a successful project. We have delivered many projects this way and have achieved our vision of providing the amazing customer experience hundreds of times over, but we’ve also been on the other end of some projects that have not gone so well. Project team members did not work well together, the communication was poor, the team did not execute well, the quality was bad, and the project was not delivered on time or on budget. So I decided to ask the more unpopular question, “what makes a construction project unsuccessful”?

 

We are all familiar with the notion of learning from our mistakes, and to the degree that one can completely admit to them, take ownership, and work diligently to ensure those mistakes don’t happen again, then we can certainly take away some good lessons learned from our failures and create a model of performance that paves the way towards future success. Through my twenty five plus years of working in this industry and being a part of thousands of project deliveries, I have now recognized a distinct pattern that will predict whether a project will be a success or not. Through some intense retrospection, I have created the Project Success Model; a business concept that defines the trajectory of a project through which the outcome can be plotted on a course of varying degrees. If the desired result is “success”, then a specific course must be plotted if the team is going to arrive at this desired outcome. Plotting the course of a project usually involves a construction schedule, a set of architectural plans, and a team of workers that are all orchestrated and directed by the general contractor that have the skills and ability to execute a specific scope of work according to a precise schedule. Ironically, this is where the problems begin. At the root of all “unsuccessful” projects is a cancer causing agent called lack of scope clarity. It starts out innocently, and if it goes unchecked, or is not treated properly, can grow out of control quickly and drive any project trajectory from success to failure.

 

A good project team will quickly and proactively diagnose this condition, identify the scope of work ambiguities, and work incessantly to resolve them before they impact the schedule. However, oftentimes, the project schedule is started before the scope of work is fully defined, which creates a dangerous situation where the scope clarity cannot be achieved in time for the schedule to be executed in the proper sequence. This is where all of the tension and problems are created. The cost of scope changes and constant schedule revisions that occur when new scopes of work are defined later and later into the overall project duration, create numerous challenges and tension amongst the project team members. Ownership begins to “push back” looking for someone to blame for these surprise costs and schedule delays as they do not understand why their project is “out of control”.  Material procurement challenges, labor re-alignment, and supply chain delays begin to snowball and create greater downward pressure on schedule. All of these factors cause the trajectory of a project to turn from green (success) to red (failure).

 

The takeaway from many years of witnessing the repeating patterns of successful and unsuccessful projects led to the creation of the Project Success Model and the best practices required to ensure a project begins, progresses, and finishes on the correct trajectory. Please refer to the model for a specific list of do’s and don’ts as you embark upon your next project. It all begins with an emphasis on scope clarity and clear expectations. If a project begins without a clear vision of what the finished product is supposed to be, and a poorly defined scope of work, you are more than likely going to experience the danger results defined in the project success model rather than the ideal results that come with proper scope of work definition at the commencement of the project. If you are interested in learning more about the Project Success Model and the pre-construction planning that accompanies the strategic planning necessary to execute a successful project, please contact Taylor Prevost.

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