Successful project management – A game of Snakes and Ladders

Successful project management - a game of snakes and ladders - The Logistics Business

Tackling major projects is something that most companies do infrequently, and subsequently they don’t always have the skills in house to ensure success. As these projects move through various stages, from conception to implementation, including concept, planning and design, specification, tendering, supplier selection, contract negotiation, implementation and testing, different skills, experience and expertise are required.

But this leads to the first dilemma – how to ensure the continuity and clarity of objective that is required from conception through to implementation, whilst bringing the specialist expertise and advice needed (and hence different people or even different teams) at different stages of the projects.

And yet it’s normal for a different team, or individuals, to undertake the concepts and planning, from those that implement the system both for the client’s team and the supplier’s. There are, however, many good practices that can be implemented to mitigate these problems, such as:-

  • Involving all key people at critical stages of the project
  • Following recognised, documented practices for project handover from one stage, or person or team, to another
  • Use of a steering committee to maintain the high level objectives throughout the project.

Despite all this, differences between the project objectives and what is delivered can still occur. The following guidelines are designed to minimise these differences by putting the correct emphasis and timing on activities that are likely to be a part of all major projects:-

  • Define the deliverables required to ensure the objectives of the project bring benefits to the organisation
  • Be able to express these deliverables in measurable values that can be built into a testing process
  • Have the contract constructed around the project deliverables and testing process to align all parties’ focus and efforts.

Depending on the type of project, the deliverables could take a number of forms. As an example, if the project is to improve the overall capacity and service levels of the site whilst the supplier’s project is to install a system that improves capacity in a specific area, then key points to consider are:-

  • Are the objectives of the supplier’s project fully compliant with the main project objectives?
  • Are the suppliers able to demonstrate the capabilities and capacity of their system working in isolation as well as a part of the larger system?
  • Can a series of tests be developed that can demonstrate the capabilities of the supplier’s system?

Whilst many words and commitments can be made to meet the broader objectives of a project, it is the testing of the system that will become the focus of the supplier’s project team. Passing these tests triggers hand-over to the user, final payments, and the opportunity to release expensive resource from site. It is therefore surprising that exactly how these tests are undertaken, or even what tests are undertaken, is often not fully defined during the tender or contract phases.

A supplier’s offer will usually include descriptions of functionality, equipment and the headline measurables such as throughput and availability. Testing is usually covered with some standard paragraphs and perhaps reference to some industry standards. This leaves a great deal to be finalised after the contract has been placed by the respective Project Managers. Leaving the detail of testing until the implementation of the project runs the risk of not fully satisfying the project objectives. A great deal of cost and emphasis can go into creating a contract pack, and making the clauses applicable to the project, but without a comprehensive testing document many of the contract clauses can be left open to interpretation.

The correct definition and implementation of some key points are the basis of a strong contract that aligns the objectives of users and suppliers. These include:-

  • What functions does the system need to undertake?
  • What performance is required from the system?
  • When does the system need to be completed?
  • How will it be tested?
  • What is the acceptance criteria?
  • What are the consequences of not meeting the acceptance criteria?
  • What are the limits of liability for not meeting the criteria?
  • How is handover linked to payments?

Legal advice is often necessary to ensure that changes to the contract are implemented accurately, but the key points will need to be established and developed by the project team and their project and logistics advisors before developing and checking the contract wording for accuracy. The consistency and linkage from the user’s original requirement, through testing to the contract, becomes key to ensuring a project successfully meets its defined objectives. The process sounds straightforward, but ensuring all documents reflect the requirements of all parties requires a substantial effort.

The use of advisors who have experience and expertise of implementing projects as both a user and supplier is one way to ensure that the project objectives are met. Implementing and following the correct processes, and the development of the documentation that forms the contact pack, are areas where advisers can be particularly effective.

Consultants within The Logistics Business have many years experience of developing project documentation and contracts, as both a user and a supplier, and undertake many projects every year to ensure our clients have their operational objectives fully satisfied with successful project management.

Every project has its ’snake’ moments, but as long a you steer clear of these and keep climbing the ladders, success will be ensured.