The only reason for undertaking a project or program is to create value through the realisation of benefits. Some projects generate significant intangible benefits such as reduced risk, enhanced prestige or in the case of regulatory requirements, the simple ability to keep trading; others are focused on generating a positive financial return, most generate a combination of financial and intangible returns.
A key element in Project Delivery Capability (PDC) is understanding the value proposition the project or program has been created to generate. Regardless of the way the ‘return’ is measured, no project should destroy value, unfortunately as discussed in Disappearing into the Zone far too many do!
The value proposition for developing an effective PDC (itself a business change program) is compelling. World-wide research undertaken by Jed Simms at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1990s defined five levels of PDC, and found that the return on investment (ROI) from projects increased substantially at each level*. These findings have been developed into a project delivery capability model by TOP – Totally Optimized Projects Pty Ltd.
- Level 1 capability is represented by executive complacency, project teams doing their own thing, no benefits management, and on average projects typically show a small negative ROI but results are wildly variable with some successes (which are always highlighted).
- Level 2 capability sees the imposition of process focused on measuring activity rather than outcomes. The business imposes forms, requirements and check lists; ‘methodology police’ enforce a one-size-fits-all policy. The process of developing ‘approvable’ businesses cases and standardised project reporting creates more uniform outcomes but there’s little understanding of risk -v- reward and virtually no follow through to implementation and benefits realisation. As a consequence there is typically a neutral ROI – the value created eventually covers the costs despite the glowing promises in the business case.
- Level 3 capability sees the organisation gaining sufficient experience and confidence to allow measured flexibility into its processes for managing projects. The basic disciplines are retained, but the way they are implemented is adjusted to suit the needs of the project. The executive view moves from imposing ‘controls’ towards an outcome focus using elements of portfolio management. However, project success still tends to be measured in terms of time, cost and scope at the end of the project rather than the benefits gained by the organisation; an output focus rather than an outcome focus. Organisations at this level generate a reasonable ROI measured at the project level but largely miss the potential for substantially enhanced business outcomes.
- Level 4 capability introduces a paradigm shift in executive thinking. Rather than focusing on project outputs, the work of the project is seen as a key enabler of valuable business outcomes. This requires an integrated flow from the identification of a need or opportunity within the business through to implementing the changes required to deliver of the expected business outcomes to meet the need or exploit the opportunity. Ownership of this value chain is vested in the business, the role of projects and project management is to support this overall effort by delivering the outputs best suited to achieving the business objective. The model defined in PDC = Project Delivery Capability represents the PDC framework needed to support this level. Simms’ research suggests there is an increase in ROI to 2 to 3 times that achieved at Level 3 once the focus of organisation’s executives shift to achieving business related outcomes, measuring the benefits actually realised and the value achieved.
- Level 5 capability expands on Level 4 with the whole PDC system focused on efficiently supporting the strategic objectives of the business. Effective strategic alignment linked to pragmatic risk management and simple but effective processes generates another significant increase in ROI!
Based on observation rather then measurement, it seems the majority of organisations in both the public and private sectors are currently operating at Level 2, typically with the PMO fulfilling the role of ‘methodology policeman’, a few more mature organisations, mainly private sector, are achieving Level 3 maturity whilst others remain at Level 1.
Very few have taken the step to Level 4 where the executive hold their business managers accountable for achieving the outcomes defined in the business case and invest in the PDC capability required to properly support their business managers.
Doing projects ‘right’ is a Level 2 phenomena, doing the ‘right projects, right’ is Level 3; the optimum is Levels 4 and 5 where the right projects are done for the right strategic reasons. PDC was forecast by Simms as the next competitive battleground in 2005 – I would suggest it is the competitive battleground in 2012!
* Source, Project Delivery Capability – the next competitive battleground, Jed Simms, TOP – Totally Optimized Projects Pty Ltd.