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The 5-Point Plan to Averting Mega-Project Disasters

Mega-projects, better known as large-investment, complex and lengthy projects, bank on everything under the sun, from the right manpower to the right machinery and equipment.  They are projects that carry risks associated with lengthy durations, frequent scope changes and cost overruns.

Given that stakeholders invest huge sums of money in the project, project managers can’t afford to guesstimate project constraints. Besides the price tag, the usefulness of the outcomes produced, promised returns and extent of ongoing maintenance to sustain the final product all influence buy-in to a mega-project.  Therefore, it is of paramount importance to equip yourself with the tools of today that address futuristic challenges associated with calculating the project’s schedule and cost estimates; that’s just sensible business advice.

Considering the interlinked dependencies that determine consequential milestones reached, the linchpin holding your projects together lie in workforce efficiency. After all, skilled labor drives your projects forward. Knowing how to avoid a mega-project disaster with tangibly preventive measures not only lets your project stay the course but also adds value for years to come. So, as far as project plans go, wouldn’t you want more certainty?

Which 5 points contain mega-project uncertainties?

A mega-project relies on timely knowledge-transfers, given that the people who started working on the project may no longer be associated with it. The knowledge they pass on, therefore, strengthens your future project team’s understanding of what needs doing. Combining the best practices of project and resource management gives rise to the following 5 procedural techniques –

1.      Scientific Resource Scheduling Estimation

The scene for a project’s expectations is set during its initiation and planning phases. Given that labor costs form a significant portion of the resourcing overhead, finding and assigning the right people to the right projects ensures your projects don’t suffer from unprecedented delays resulting from unavailability, schedule conflicts or missing resources.

The challenge here is two-fold; for one, mega-projects require hyper-specialized skills. This invites a gig workforce where temporary hires such as contractors work alongside your full-time staff. But, in the event that the contractors you’re scouting out are committed to other assignments, the onus falls on you to either structure your team with last-minute hires or have your full-time staff upgrade their knowledge areas with requisite learning schemes.

Given that such programs consume their time and determines their ability to orient around new work, getting the project off the ground within the proposed window would seem next-to-impossible.

In addition, you need current data centering around both the quality and quantity of experienced labor, skill-types and technical resources. While your project teams are informed of client expectations, work packages and deliverables, your stakeholders are informed of the exact costs, schedule, project scope and effort investments involved in order to approve and release funds for the project.

You’d naturally have your eye on a tool that gives you a vision board over both resource and project schedules. With an instant overview over how schedules are placed, you’ll find skill-matches per project specifications as well as gauge your staff’s utilization rates against their availability to commit.

This way, even if extenuating circumstances result in absenteeism midway through the project execution, secondary resources can be deployed on to it in a move that accomplishes two objectives at once, i.e., reducing bench-time clunks while ensuring no one is overworked in the last minute and that schedules stay on track even when originally committed team members are no longer available.

team collaboration on mega-projects

2.      Team collaboration

As is with any large-scale project, tasks inevitably spill over one another, requiring multiple resources across the enterprise to be roped in. Given the different bodies of knowledge involved, encouraging teams to collaborate effectively results in an environment conducive to optimal productivity.

When a fresh pair of eyes weighs in, project teams can take up tasks that were overlooked or left undone on account of newer priorities temporarily displacing the original priority list. Further, secondary skills can be utilized on tasks to speed things along the curve by project team members who have the necessary know-how. Besides extracting and leveraging potential on work, team collaborations encourage comprehensive project documentations.  By factoring in where and how effort investments happened, current members creating a template for escalating issues which lets future teams minimize the possibility of repeated rework and extension requests.

While benefits alignment isn’t always immediately realized in a mega-project, collaborative efforts decides the success and number of milestones reached, irrespective of when they occur. Therefore, encourage your teams to support one another and have free-flowing information channel that lets them communicate with each other to raise requests.  This induces objectivity and ensures no one is tripping up their teammates by withholding critical data.

3.      Stakeholder Support Via Regularized Reporting

A Stakeholder analysis matrix classifies your stakeholders by their order of importance and involvement. And while this lets you identify and balance competing interests, keeping your stakeholders involved in the stages following initial approval lets them know how their monetary investments are paying off. The first step in doing so is to standardize reporting regulations that mandate everyone’s findings are recorded with precision.

90% of projects are impacted by ballooning costs, according to the Iron Law of mega projects, giving rise to questions concerning how, where and why the spends exceeded originally calculated costs. Often, it takes someone else to spot something you never realize you missed. This is where executive-level management reports come in. Subject to the regularity of project reporting and experiential judgment, your stakeholders can retrieve insights to suggest remedial actions that control costs.

So long as your reporting analytics reflects updated information in real-time, your stakeholders would receive progress status updates throughout the project lifecycle. And given the duration and complexity of mega-projects, the more closely involved your stakeholders from beginning to end the better.

4.      Revisit,  Revise, Repeat

Plans change, which invariably affects your project’s progress trajectory. Keeping track of changes to your original project plan lets you determine if the change was warranted and resulted in either a long or short-term benefit.

When you’re hard pressed for time but need to revisit the project’s original plan, the easiest route is to cast several what-if scenario permutations at once. For instance, you can compare your staff’s planned hours against actual hours pulled from individual timesheets to level them. If the actual hours invested exceed the estimated hours, you can instantly determine that the project would take longer to finish. Conversely, if the actual hours were minimal, it’ll indicate that the project has a high likelihood of finishing early, thus pointing you to resources who are free to be utilized on pending assignments. You can accordingly make revisions to schedules and modify resource bookings such that your staff are notified of changes in real-time, thus letting them reorient without disrupting existing processes.

5. Transparency over project policies in change management

Project governance ensures that senior management and junior executives alike comply with change management policies. It informs them of the strategic direction of the project’s execution while letting them know how their role and future in the company is affected.

Mega-projects are increasingly entering the tera-era phase where investment costs rise up to the very trillions. When strategic leadership changes hands, establishing and following procedures via an organizational framework lets you collect information over the usage of your workforce, project management methodologies, tools and templates. Extending this to gig contracts lets you establish a rapport with employees possessing hyper-specialized skills while remaining cost-efficient with true project billing worth.

Framing governance starts with inspecting your firm’s existing business processes in order to determine the need for change. If it results in a direct or indirect benefit such as reduced timelines for project delivery, structural longevity or minimized costs, the next step is to regulate project audits with agile benchmarking. It not only establishes the metrics per user role that lets you monitor project performance but also readies you for the eventuality that these parameters are likely to change per project in the future. This way, no-one is thrown off guard when change management is introduced!

Tell us, what is your current mega-project management strategy to avoid disasters? Take these points home and see where they fit best with your strategy!

Author Bio :

Aakash Gupta heads the Business Development wing at Saviom Software. He has authored extensive pieces on the best practices concerning Enterprise Project portfolio, resource management and workforce planning.  Receive the very latest updates from him, here.

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