Following on from the success of the The Benefits Of Collaboration and Collaboration Contracts’ event at the Downstream Project Management Conference in Brussels on 3 and 4 December 2019.  I have reflected upon the question raised by the panel to delegates during the last session on Day one.

“What causes projects to fail?

Although I think this is a good question, I believe it is not the appropriate question if the objective is to identify good practice needed to assure successful project delivery and outcomes.

The more appropriate question, in my view, is “What is needed for successful project delivery?” –  a positive rather than negative sounding question. In this context we must define a “successful project”. I suggest this is one where it is delivered safely, meets the required quality and standards, is on time, is within budget, meets stakeholders expectations and rewards stakeholders financially commensurate with the risks taken, the investments made and the effort expended by each stakeholder in contributing to the project success.

While the conference theme was Project Management In The Age Of Digital Transformation and which is largely a “technically centric” intervention, there was considerable discussion and agreement amongst presenters and delegates that human relationships and behaviours within and between contracting parties throughout the supply chain are fundamental to adopting and making effective use of Digitalisation and other similar interventions if these are to contribute to more efficient and productive working on projects. I completely agree. In this context I believe that there are three fundamental criteria at the core of successful project delivery that are equally applicable to and must be satisfied by the entire supply chain, starting with owners;

  • To foster a culture of openness, learning and inquiry within and between project stakeholders
  • Healthy and realistic levels of optimism in all stakeholders regarding project outcomes and their achievability.
  • Thorough understanding by stakeholders of contractual commitments and their implications together with realistic and robust planning to discharge these.

There was a high level of common understanding and agreement amongst delegates that if Digitalisation (and other similar interventions) is to be adopted and implemented effectively across industry there needs to be transparency, cooperation, openness, honesty, dialogue and trust between contracting parties and other stakeholders. However, several presenters and delegates opined that the popular contracting models today (e.g., LSTK EPC etc) that have now been in use for about 50 years are not conducive to enacting these values. I agree and would add that the barriers created are not confined to adopting and implementing Digitalisation but reside at the core of the above three fundamental criteria for successful project delivery.

Engineering Construction is primarily a people industry and will remain so for the foreseeable future – it is people that deliver projects. Hence, human relationships and behaviours are fundamental to successful project delivery. And yet while there appears to be tacit agreement in some quarters in this respect, the industry has thus far done very little to ensure that people throughout the supply chain are sufficiently equipped to deal effectively with the human relationships and behavioural challenges confronting them at their respective levels on projects to assure successful project delivery and outcomes. Unless and until there is universal recognition throughout industry that the main challenges confronting the industry cannot be resolved by technical and technological solutions alone, then no amount of innovations and interventions, such as Digitalisation, or different contracting models will do much to change the industry’s track record of failing projects.

Human behaviour – leadership – has to drive the changes in terms of organisation, technology and processes & methods and which collectively have the potential to revolutionise the way the industry conceives and delivers projects so that it becomes an attractive investment proposition as a result of successful project performance, delivery and results and therefore sustainable.

John Fotherby – Partner Kingsfield Academy