Successful projects?

Published on Monday 11 March 2013 by in News with no comments

Ensink & van Gool  organized their first symposium in celebration of their 5th anniversary. The symposium was to focus on ‘Successful projects’.  The opening speaker of the event was Nicoline Mulder who presented the findings of her academic research into Value based project management (Dutch pdf) as opposed to classical project management. This was followed by 9 teams participating in the project management business simulation game ‘The Challenge of Egypt’ from GamingWorks. The objective of the game was to test and explore value based approaches and to identify why project success across all industries is so low.

Nicoliine showed some figures about project management success….or should we say more commonly ‘lack of success’, as well as some dramatic photos of failed projects, such as bridges not meeting in the middle!? or a tunnel under a river with no access road.  Her research proposed an alternative approach to organizing and managing complex projects, what she called a chaordisch approach which is characterized by 11 key characteristics, these being:

  • Approach based on shared values
  • Work towards a Higher goal
  • Work on the basis of trust
  • Project vision – keep it alive
  • Stimulate creativity
  • Development approach
  • Maintain dialogue with all stakeholders
  • Transformational leadership
  • Self organization
  • Involve the users from the beginning
  • Work towards ‘results’

After the presentation Jan Schilt of GamingWorks, in his role of Pharaoh, entered the room. The Pharaoh explained he wanted an attractive pyramid park built, containing 9 pyramids. He had already sold 5 before they were even built and has high expectations on a speedy delivery of a pyramid park to meet the needs of the market. A steering group, project support office and Quality assurance team had been created to steer and manage the 9 projects. The project teams first completed a questionnaire related to value based project management – what were the values of each team?. Out of the 14 values recorded such as ‘pleasure in our work’, ‘Focus on quality’, ‘Result focus’, only 2 teams actually focused on the values mentioned by the Pharaoh. So much for an approach based on shared values. Then the countdown clock commenced which signalled the start of the projects.

Just like in real life unforeseen set backs befell the projects – strikes, illness, boats stranding, cranes collapsing, not to mention the changing whims of the pharaoh. The projects were put under strain by these changes and unforeseen setbacks.

At the end of the simulation a park of pyramids was delivered. Only 2 actually met expectations and the pharaoh was NOT satisfied. Why not? What had happened and what did this have to do with value based project management?

The teams quickly fell into classical project mode, time, quality, budget and trying to harnass the Pharaoh, to constrict his flexibility. There was too little dialogue between the projects, the steering group and the Pharao. There was little evidence of trust, almost from the beginning. There was a major disconnect between the vision and values of the Pharaoh and that of the project.

Some quotes we heard in relation to the 11 characteristics of value based projects?

Project worker: ‘The sooner the Pharoah kicks the bucket and ends up in his sarcophagus the better!, he keeps interrupting the project’.

Pharaoh: ‘I am the project sponsor and yet I am continually pushed out of the project, people keeping talking about products, schedules, money….nobody wants to explore value and provide creative solutions in line with my higher level vision and goals’. 

Build manager: ‘Attractive park? Perhaps it would have been an idea to ask what this meant? We were so focused on our single pyramid….a product focus as opposed to a higher level goal’.

Project employee: ‘We knew what our project shared values were and what success looked like for us as a project team….we knew very little of what the Pharoah really needed’.

Project manager: ‘There was a lot of dialogue….little result. Were we in dialogue about the right things’?

Project team: ‘The changing goals made it difficult to manage the project time, scope, quality and money’.

Project employee: ‘We always seemed to be reactive, acting after the facts and trying to catch up and understand the pharaoh….not enough pro-active engagement and dialogue’.

Project manager: ‘We weren’t really engaged in the right way with the Pharaoh….he didn’t trust us…we didn’t know enough about what he really wanted’.

Pharaoh: ‘I asked the steering group to come with proposals for making the project vision a success….they came back with time, money, quality, scope not creative proposals for fulfilling the vision of an attractive park that would appeal to the buyers’.

At the end the Pharaoh showed a picture of one of the pyramids, a creative solution delivered given the time and resourcing constraints. Very creative unfortunately nobody had shared the idea or suggestion with the pharaoh. ‘If You had come to me with this creative approach, knowing I wanted an attractive park of pyramids that I could sell I could have found a new market and charged more for this innovative design. How come nobody came to me? Discussed my higher goals? Shared our project vision and values? Conducted a dialogue?….how come we didn’t have this trust’?  – Food for thought.

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