Projects are about creating value but that simple fact often gets lost due to the emphasis we place on schedule and budget. Although schedule and budget are important, where they become a project’s primary focus we run the risk of triggering a “disconnect failure”. Disconnect failures occur when a project delivers its deliverables, but the connection between those deliverables and the actual creation of value gets lost.
Disconnect failures are unfortunately all too common. Likely because schedule and budget are more visible, they often take center stage when monitoring a project’s progress. Today’s project management thinking typically uses “Earned Value” as a tool for tracking progress. That can be a doubled edged sword. On the one had we have a clear picture of time, money and deliverables, but on the other hand, the focus on schedule and budget can divert attention away from ensuring the project stays on track towards its final goal, the of creation of value.
In many cases the problem comes down to the fact that projects only create deliverables and the actual realization of value comes after the project has closed. I spent much of yesterday with a class of Project Management students who are doing a case study that deals with the creation of a PMO. Such projects are prime candidates for a disconnect failure. Because ‘PMO set up’ projects typically focuses on deliverables (templates, processes, training programs and changes to the organization structure, etc) the actual realization of value (a more efficient and reliable project deliverable capability) comes after the ‘PMO set up’ project is complete.
In general when I look at projects such as the PMO creation project, I look for a template of activities that link the project to the realization of value. Firstly at project start up we need to have a clear picture of the value we are trying to create and how we will know when we got there. Clear, measurable objectives are a good starting point, but they alone are not enough. The next thing I look as is whether or not the team is using those objectives to guide their decision making as the project moves forward. The final step and the one that most often gets dropped, comes down to project closure.
Often project closure is seen as a simple handover of deliverables, followed by a party and a cheerful wave over the shoulder as the project team disappears into the distance. This is the point at which the disconnect often occurs. Because there are no planned activities for the measurement of the objectives and no framework for ongoing support, the actual creation of value often gets lost.
Although we think of such projects as “done” when earned value is 100%, at project closure we haven’t really “earned” any value at all. While we have deliverables, all they do is put us in a position to start earning value. The actual earning of value only comes as the project’s deliverables begin to get used. That is often a rocky road that requires ongoing support, monitoring and constant reference back to the original objectives. Smart organizations put in place a mechanism to ensure that the linkage between the events after project closure and the project’s objectives is firmly maintained.