Consistent and repeatable success is possible within project delivery, provided you build the right scaffolding around it with robust assurance.
Dig deep enough and it’s not hard to unearth war stories about the impacts of projects going wrong.
The impact of failed projects – as well as consistent or persistent failures – can be immense for a business undertaking transformation. To gain competitive advantage and keep pace with regulatory requirements, many Australian organisations are undertaking an unprecedented amount of transformational change. The benefits of hefty IT projects can be great, but they are not without risk.
As experienced project delivery specialists, we know that any project starting to go off the rails at 15% into the timeline has a hard time getting back on track. Given the awareness of the market of the failure rate of IT projects, it’s heartening to see an increasing focus on the need to build robust scaffolding around projects, to ensure they are properly supported and set up for success.
Project Assurance can deliver significant value by providing the scaffolding that enables consistent, sustainable project success towards medium to long term horizons. But it needs to be the right type of assurance at the right time in the project cycle.
Project Black Swans: Are They Truly Rare and Difficult to Predict?
As mentioned above, it doesn’t take much digging to discover how expensive it can be for business when projects go wrong. PWC reported that failed IT projects cost the world’s largest 500 companies more than $14 billion a year. McKinsey reports that 17 per cent of IT projects go so bad that they can threaten the very existence of the company.
But the question remains: Are these high impact failures unforeseeable and therefore – to use popular risk parlance – ‘black swans’? Or do they occur significantly more often than expected?
Given the focus on failures from boards, C-suite executives, and internal reviews, it would appear that many organisations are increasingly aware of the risks posed by large IT initiatives. Building an assurance capability – or utilising external expertise to provide an independent view – is an important starting point for refocusing with a long-term lens.
Scaffolding to Support Success
Organisations with a few failures on the books need to be asking the right questions to ensure that assurance within the business is fit-for-purpose, for example:
- How does assurance help to create the right type of scaffolding for the right projects?
- Can assurance help to steer a project back on course and keep it there?
- When is it right to bring in an independent perspective to provide an ‘outside-in’ view of projects – especially those that are likely to have significant business impact?
In our recent bulletin article, we explored the reality that assurance can sometimes be a box ticking exercise which sells short the real value it can provide. We have identified four pillars to value-add assurance that, when embedded, executed well, and accepted as part of a corporate delivery culture, can provide consistency and sustainable success.
These pillars follow the natural cadence of the project from set-up, through delivery, post implementation and finally benefits realisation.
Pillar 1 – The Set Up
Assurance helps provide transparency and validation to the following key questions for the initiation phase of any program:
- Have we purchased/targeted the right solution(s)?
- Are we set up for success and is success clearly defined?
- How will the benefits be realised?
- Do we have the right capability and sufficient capacity to deliver?
- Is the business ready?
- Is the governance and methodology fit for purpose?
Pillar 2 – Delivery
Delivery assurance provides transparency to the following key questions for the delivery phase of any program.
Its key focuses are:
- Are we on-time and on-budget?
- Are we delivering to scope?
- Are we going to deliver against the benefits?
- Are we in control of our risks and managing them?
- Are we still on track for success?
Pillar 3 – Post-Implementation
Post implementation assurance provides transparency to the following key questions after the project has been completed.
It’s key focuses are:
- Did the project execute to the plan
- What was the level of satisfaction of the project
- What are the lessons learned?
- What can be done better?
- Are the benefits on track realised?
These learnings should be centrally recorded and feed into the next project so whilst PIRs are backward-looking, this assurance is really about the next projects and setting those up for success.
Pillar 4 – Benefits Evaluation and Realisation
Benefit assurance provides transparency to the whole reason the project was approved. It looks at the benefits promised during the business case stage against whether those benefits have been realised long after it has been completed. It also looks at whether the business has owned and driven the benefits into the business after the project is complete.
It’s key focuses are:
- Have the benefits been accurately quantified?
- Have they been captured and tracked?
- Have the benefits been thoroughly evaluated?
- Have the benefits been realised?
The Value of Independence (and an Outside-In Perspective)
It’s our experience from an ROI perspective that, in terms of adding real value to a project, assurance is a must – that is, if it is the right type of assurance delivered at the right time and by the right team. That requires tough questions and objective insights.
This is why there is value in bringing in an outside capability to deliver independent assurance. Independent assurance shines an objective light into all of the corners of a project, which substantially reduces the chance of missing – intentionally or otherwise – key risk and issues that may be impacting the project.
Ultimately that is what assurance is for – to add value and increase the chances of a good project outcome.
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