The majority of companies jump immediately into the execution of their project, once the project contract has been signed and secured. The project kicks off with a strong start and continues at a steady pace until a major issue occurs. This prompts project teams to analyse the issue’s root causes and devise potential solutions, inevitably leading to further delays.
In our experience of carrying out projects, we have observed that the vast majority of these unexpected issues may be avoided thanks to proper project preparation. Unfortunately, companies dedicate less effort within the project definition phase; this is critical because the definition phase is a period of defining project objectives, outcomes, processes and responsibilities. Why is it that less attention is paid to this particular part of the life cycle? Is it because they under-estimate the importance of the phase or they do not have the right methodologies/processes for optimal project execution? Whatever the reasons, the preparation phase is of utmost importance and contributes to at least 50% of the project’s success.
Alignment of factors during preparation
It is important to remember that a project in itself is nothing more than an idea or ambition. When a stakeholder is informed about the idea, they will have their own interpretation of what the end result will be, essentially creating multiple viewpoints. As a result, it is necessary to build an alignment between stakeholders, goals and project scope so that all affiliated teams operate on the same page when the project reaches the execution stage. The preparation of the project adheres to this perspective of convergence, allowing actors to assimilate to the stakes of the project, their own goals and their contribution so that the project will be a success.
Developing and executing a successful project management plan
When stakeholders have reached a contractual agreement, the next focus is building a successful project management plan. This plan starts with the creation of a project team, where team members are selected with the right behaviour and skills and their roles and responsibilities are formalised.
When the right team is selected, the next step is to define the project itself. This will include defining key items such as project deliverables, activities, milestones and the key contributors of the company. It is important for the project team and key contributors to collaborate with each other to define these key items. This will lead to commitment and adhesion to the project.
The formalisation of these deliverables and these activities in terms of time constitutes the project schedule. This construction of a schedule has the advantage of allowing an overall view. It allows for the synchronisation of the different activities of the company in the project, the identification of the critical path and the calculation of a realistic duration for the project. The project schedule is a roadmap that needs to be followed and updated continuously. Schedules should be updated consistently as new risks and opportunities may arise during the execution phase. The creation of a risk management portfolio will assist stakeholders in developing and prioritising actions that minimise the impact generated by different types of risks.
Placing additional care and effort in the definition phase allows project teams to transition more seamlessly into the execution stage. This will also motivate them to apply a more proactive approach to resolving challenges, as they appear throughout the project. Well-defined methodologies, processes and responsibilities can allow the execution stage to be less susceptible to cost overruns and schedule delays.
Why time is a valuable commodity
The duration of the preparation phase depends on the type of project being delivered, which can vary from a number of months to several years. In our experience, we recommend dedicating 15% to 20% of the time to this phase, to ensure that the project is well defined and necessary checks have been accounted for prior to project execution. Building a strong foundation in the definition phase is essential in not only starting off the project well, but also delivering the project at a smooth and consistent pace. Without this consideration, your organisation will be left with resolving 100% of the issues in the project rather than 50%.