Finishing a project on time can seem like something of a rarity in the world of project management so it seems fair to question if finishing on time is even important at all? But the thing is, finishing when we said we would is very important because the pace of change in industry is so great that any delay runs the risk of a competitor stealing an advantage, or everything becoming “outdated” before we even start to use it. But maybe the most important aspect of overrunning on a project is “time is money”.
Overrunning on projects
So why do we so often let it slip in projects?
One key reason stands out in my experience: the target for time allowed was never achievable in the first place.
Another reason is often due to planning – or lack of in many cases.
And the last reason is very much linked to the latter; some people - often those in more powerful positions - see planning as wasting time when you could be getting a project underway quicker.
Can PRINCE2® help?
Well of course I’m going to say yes to the last question, it’s how I make a living, but let’s examine the reasons in a little more detail.
Reason one: unachievable targets
Stretch Targets are probably one of the most bizarre management tools ever invented. Consider this scenario: a new enthusiastic Project Manager appointed to their first project, up all night in the first few weeks, discussing and agreeing things with the right people, getting some controls in place, planning (maybe in too much detail, but we can forgive them for that) documenting and presenting to everyone who is interested, the “project”. Let’s also, just for argument’s sake, assume they are following PRINCE2 because they’ve been trained in project management before being asked to manage a project. Surely, nobody would expect anybody to manage anything without training?
They present their plan to the senior managers for approval and they instantly strip out anything that might be considered “contingency” and give them a “stretch” time target that could never be hit and a budget that makes anything almost impossible to achieve. The result of course is a project that is late and over budget.
In my opinion stretch targets seem only there to do one thing: I have a plan, if I follow the plan and things are going well, then things are too easy, therefore I need stretching until I break and then somehow, miraculously, I become a good manager. How does that work?
Reason two: planning
Project Managers, on the most part, can’t plan properly anyway and in the project world there’s a strong argument for this. Projects bring about change and they are always uncertain because they always have some unique factor to them. So how can we plan accurately if we haven’t done it before? In short we can’t; yes, we could go seek lessons but how many people reading this have ever seen a lessons report written by somebody else? 10% of you at most I’m sure.
Reason three: why do we even plan at all?
And so we arrive at the final reason which is the simple attitude of “just get on with it because there is no point planning anyway, it will either be torn to shreds by the target stretchers or fall into disrepair because it was rubbish in the first place”.
This is when PRINCE2 and its new offspring, PRINCE2 Agile® come into their own.
PRINCE2 will give you a structure to control both scenarios, three levels of product based planning and Stage Boundaries coupled with good governance, underpinned by some key principles and we never need to worry again.
PRINCE2 Agile recognizes the flexibility of the PRINCE2 structure but also shows us how to FIX time and cost so we always finish on time using some fabulous agile tools combined with controls. In fact, the more I look at agile, the more I realize that it is more controlled than PRINCE2, it just doesn’t feel like it.
For more information about project management, see our PRINCE2 and PRINCE2 Agile sections.
Read Steve Boronski's previous AXELOS Blog Post, PRINCE2 Agile™ - A Trainer's view.
Have you previously found that meeting targets and agreeing plans has caused difficulties when trying to achieve project deadlines? Or have you successfully used a project management method or methodology such as PRINCE2 to structure projects? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.