Projects often get off-track in the first few weeks and can be difficult – if not impossible – to course correct, however setting up for success from the outset is about getting early fundamentals right.
There is a widely-accepted maxim in project assurance that if a project is not on track in the first six weeks of its existence, then the likelihood of it failing – in some way, shape, or form – is as high as 80%.
It is in the very early stages of establishment and mobilisation that a project is most at risk and prevention is usually better than the cure. However, there are some simple and practical tools that can help get a project off on the right foot.
The Case for Early Intervention
There are generally two basic types of projects:
- The Paint-By-Numbers varieties: Those projects that are well known to the organisation and are somewhat repeatable; and
- The Walk-in-The-Fog project: Those projects where the measure of success and very nature of the project is more nebulous and it is often the first attempt for an organisation (think digital or transformation)
Irrespective of the type of project or risk profile, all projects benefit from the right focus and effort upfront to set the right fundamentals for a good project outcome and to ensure a ‘set up for success’ approach. So what is the right type of early intervention and when should it be applied?
Set Up For Success Reviews – The What and Why
Setup for Success Reviews are, by their very nature, forward looking and not an intervention, per se. The objective is to look at the project early enough in its development to determine what has been set up for success and what needs more input or work – or support to get it back on track.
A Set up for Success review is a fit for purpose approach to assessing if the project is indeed on the right track during the initiation and mobilisation phase and if not what gaps there are and what are the suitable recommendations to fill these gaps.
Generally, it’s not about making changes or intervening in the running of the project. Any observations should be accompanied by suitable recommendations to remedy any shortcomings in the project set-up. The review process is designed as a separate (ideally independent) set of eyes that ensure the project is being established according to an agreed set of project principles (Quay uses the P3M3 framework for set-up for success reviews).
Regardless of the framework selected there are some basic project hygiene areas that should be assessed, these include – Scope, Governance, Benefits, Stakeholder Engagement and Risk Management.
Furthermore the final terms of reference and areas of focus should always be created using two information gathering approaches:
- A review of key project documentation; and
- One-on-one interviews with key project participants (PM, Sponsor. Senior Supplier, Vendors, PMO etc). The ‘what’ and ‘whom’ should be finalised at the kick off meeting.
So, do Set-Up Reviews Add Any Value?
Of all of the various types of project assurance, set-up for success reviews offer the greatest upside because, by their very nature, they provide early insights and recommendations to address risk or issues in projects whilst they are still small and manageable. As an early warning mechanism, Set Up for Success review works by the old principle that a stitch in time saves nine: There is time early in the project to intervene and course-correct.
The diagram below shows the value add and ROI of a Set up for Success review as matched against other reviews.
Relevance and Fundamentals
Few projects start with the intention of failing, however, it’s not difficult for projects to run off the rails early in delivery. Project Assurance remains a very important capability for all organisations that are serious about doing projects well.
There are many different types of project assurance (PIRs, Health checks, Stage Gate Reviews etc.) and they all have their place and timings for when these reviews are appropriate.
In our experience from a ROI perspective in terms of adding real value to a project, Set Up for Success Reviews stand head and shoulders above all others. It will provide you with the insights to give your projects the best possible chance of being truly successful from the outset.
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