I was speaking at a project management conference recently and while there I overheard a conversation between two senior managers. One asked the other how they managed to get the benefits they expected from their projects. The other replied that it was hard, and that they hadn’t done it well in at least the last three years. This is an all too familiar story.
A recent KPMG survey in New Zealand found that only 21% of organisations consistently deliver on their benefits. While this is grim reading, it's actually a good statistic compared to a recent global study by the same organisation. That survey found that only 2% of organisations ever get the outcomes they expect from projects.
The New Zealand study also found that half the organisations don’t regularly review the outcomes they get from projects against their strategic objectives.
To be clear – half the companies surveyed don’t go back and ask themselves whether the projects they agreed they needed to do delivered what was expected in order to take the business forward in the way that they’d planned and that they’re accountable for.
And senior managers wonder why I constantly call them out for being the reason that projects fail?
Let’s be honest here, the reason organisations don’t get the benefits they expect from projects is that the senior managers leading them just aren’t invested enough in what’s being done. Any other reason given is an excuse. They don’t have the honesty, stamina or determination to see it through to the bitter end and ensure that the organisation gets what it expects.
This may seem harsh, but time and time again reviews and reports prove this to be true and I’m trying to light a fire here so that we can collectively change things as we simply can’t carry on like this.
Typically, senior managers make three mistakes:
1. They are overly optimistic about benefits (or over-exaggerate them) in the business case in order to get the funding in the first place
2. The market conditions changed during the course of the project leading to a reduction in what they could expect. However, they decided to carry on regardless
3. They simply don't care enough as leaders to do the hard work to get the benefits once the project has finished.
I’ve seen this behaviour time and time again in my 20 years of working in public and private sector organisations. I continue to see it now. Report after report calls out the lack of attention and focus on outcomes and organisations wonder why they continually need more projects to fix the ones that didn’t deliver what they expected.
Senior managers don’t need to be given a training session on how to navigate through an approvals process or to insist on projects being more agile. They need to be taught what accountability for delivery of projects really means, and how to do it well every single time, starting with visible (and often public) accountability.
Once we start to get the people at the top to care about delivery of outcomes, then maybe we’ll see an increase in the success rates of projects too. Everyone benefits in that scenario.
My new book The Project Rots From The Head: How Senior Managers Can Stop Project Failing, Forever is available now.