Delivering excellent projects requires freedom to innovate

Project management for transport has come a long way in recent years, with development of formal project management processes by agencies, and skilling of project managers through formal training and on-the-job mentoring.

Delivering a project, whether it be a policy or planning type project, an infrastructure project, or a service review or implementation, certainly requires a formalised process, with good checks and balances, and clear roles and responsibilities, all the way through.

But what makes the difference between a good, well-managed project and an excellent project?

Making room for innovation is one clear requisite. And it could even be that the advances in project management processes in recent years have actually worked against innovation, and can result in bureaucratically acceptable projects, but lost opportunities to deliver excellence.

Bureaucracies have a natural tendency to stifle innovation. They are generally risk averse and are likely to continuously remind themselves and their staff of past mistakes, and vow never to see them repeated. Learning from mistakes is of course essential if an organisation is to continuously enhance its processes. In a path making organisation, mistakes are actually an essential part of the process.

For projects delivered by large organisations, we need to recognise that as the project proceeds, we will learn more about the problem and how to solve it. Sticking to a narrow scope defined at an early stage of project planning could work, but runs a high risk of failing to deliver its objectives, and almost certainly, missing opportunities to deliver excellence.

To achieve an excellent project, an organisation can incorporate the some essential features into its project planning and delivery:

1. Make sure there is a clear outcomes led planning process that links to the desired goals of the organisation

2. Incorporate strategic thinking and project leadership into the delivery structure, as well as project control and monitoring; do not turn over control to an “inspector-controller” personality

3. Anticipate and manage risks, and ensure any failures still fit within the acceptable risk framework; failure is not an option

4. Make room for innovation in all stages of project design and delivery. Focus on the objectives of the project, and meeting budget and timeline requirements, rather than narrow scope control.

5. Remember “what gets measured gets done”. Make sure to recognise, monitor and celebrate innovation in project planning and delivery

6. Learn from failures, don’t punish them.

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