At the heart of successful core platform projects lies a triad of strategies: the analytical clarity of balanced scorecards, the candour of transparent cultures, and the guiding hand of gracious leadership. 

If you believe that culture does indeed eat strategy for breakfast, you’ll also know that it’s a tricky thing to get right even in your BAU, let alone a major undertaking like a core platform project (or any other high-risk project). 

When you’re responsible for something high-risk by its very nature, with the project costs possibly reaching six or seven figures, there’s a lot of scrutiny and pressure to deliver. A toxic culture can (and likely will) impact the successful delivery of your project. 

In our experience, two main ingredients make for a successful project culture: a focus on delivering project outcomes with a balanced scorecard of KPIs, rather than just one area (e.g. financial metrics); and creating a culture of transparency, where people aren’t afraid to raise issues and risks.  

Let’s take a look at three of our favourite strategies for sponsors and leaders to cultivate a healthy, successful project culture now. 

Strategy 1: Develop a balanced scorecard to measure the project’s success. 

We’d never argue with the importance of financial metrics. It’s always critical to demonstrate the ROI of the project to shareholders and investors; and ensure the project is delivered on time and as close to budget as possible. However, if these are your only metrics, there’s a clear and present danger of your project’s culture slipping into the realm of “cut-throat performance” and “make the numbers work – at any cost”. 

A better approach is to develop a balanced scorecard of KPIs to measure the project’s success. Ideally, this would be a mix of financial targets, as well as considerations such as the project’s potential impact on the community and environment (if relevant), customer satisfaction and the wellbeing of the people delivering the project.  

After all – can a project really be considered successful if the financial targets have been met – but in the process, you’ve alienated customers due to poor quality delivery; lost key personnel and talent from the organisation because they’re burnt out.  

Strategy 2: Think differently about how you engage and incentivise third parties. 

Most project ecosystems include an array of stakeholders who are external to your organisation – vendors, system integrators, consultants and so on. They’re necessary ingredients for project success because they bring the skills and expertise required to deliver work streams outside your organisation’s “BAU”. 

Choosing the right ecosystem of third parties is critical. The right partner (or combination of partners) should bring all the expertise, learnings and best practices garnered from their recent experience in delivering projects similar to yours. Ultimately, partner selection can mean the difference between achieving your project outcomes (or not).  

It can also help to think differently about engaging and incentivising them to better align with your outcomes. If you have a contract with a consultant based on billable hours, for example, then that is arguably their major incentive – rather than what’s on your scorecard. 

Instead, consider creating shared wins and use this as a negotiation tool when devising your contract. For example, would you be willing to pay a partner an extra 5% of the value of the contract up-front, if they can guarantee you will get 100% ROI on the investment within three years? For many of us, the answer is a resounding “yes”. 

Unless you’re facing significant cost constraints, we advise that you avoid haggling your partners down to the lowest possible price. While this may be a short-term win for the project budget, you risk becoming a low-value customer, The partner may even feel they need to resort to “corner cutting” and taking risks to make something work on a restrained budget.  

At the very least, chances are you won’t be getting the partner’s “A Team” on your project, simply because you’re not paying for the best people, which can compromise delivery and results.   

On the other hand, creating a commercial win-win with partners helps with holding them account to any promises made.  

Strategy 3: Never underestimate the importance of gracious leadership. 

We’ve written before about the importance of leadership within project delivery, and how to be a great project sponsor. There are some specific considerations for project managers, and anyone involved in leading the execution and delivery, to create a desirable, outcomes-based culture. 

The so-called “open door policy” that many leaders adopt (or claim to adopt) needs to be present – and on steroids. Why? Because most major projects are a step-up in complexity from BAU due to all the moving parts and the ambiguity of doing something new or different. You need to be extra vigilant when it comes to early identification (and resolution) of potential issues.   

So why does being gracious matter, and how does it help?   

If someone brings you a piece of bad news, your first step should be to thank them for bringing it to you. If you can avoid having large, negative reactions – and focus instead on developing a response – your team won’t fear raising issues and flagging risks. The earlier you hear about any emerging problems, the better.  

Meanwhile, if someone from above you has passed on some bad news or negative feedback, try to pass it on to the team in a filtered and constructive manner. Yes, issues need to be corrected – but passing through negative feedback with associated internal politics and emotion can distract the team from goals of the project.  Ultimately, you could be working against the feedback’s intended purpose.   

Finally, if one of your team members has made an error, a good strategy is to separate the incident from the coaching. We all struggle to learn new things when emotions and stress levels are running high. 

How does the broader corporate culture impact my project’s culture? 

While the broader corporate culture will have an impact on the culture within a specific project, there is always merit in establishing a project-specific code – a culture within a culture. For example, your broader culture may be focused on constant positivity and sharing wins. This may be suitable for BAU, however a major project needs a healthy dose of reality, too.  

At the extreme end of the spectrum, if your culture is focused on celebrating the so-called heroes who rush in and save the day when things go wrong, we recommend ring-fencing your project’s culture, for its own protection.  

We prefer our heroes out saving people from real emergencies – not ones that could have been avoided, with proper planning, systems and processes! 

Project leadership is the glue 

When it comes to core platform projects, culture is important. Fostering the right culture is vital – and that means prioritising project outcomes and transparency over individual performance. As always, gracious leadership is the glue that holds the project together – so open your door (if you haven’t already), and prepare to embrace the good news alongside the bad. 

Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team or reach out to have a discussion today.

About Quay

Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...