The rational pessimist knows that things can, and do, go wrong. We are currently involved in helping to get several small biomass projects out of trouble in one way or another. My experience is that the smaller the project, the bigger the impact that problems can have in proportion to its size, due to the shorter timescales and financial margins.
How can you steer clear of trouble? You need to remember the basics and keep things simple – because project management is essentially still about planning, monitoring and controlling cost, time and quality. Yes, a 10MW power plant is still complex project and will need rigorous planning, but the simpler you can make each element the better.
The project plan defines who does what, where and when. So you need to make sure everyone knows what they are doing, and that everyone is focussed on this project – not their previous one. That sounds obvious, but we’ve all been in meetings where people bring up issues that have happened to them before. It’s likely that past solutions were responding to entirely different issues to those of the current project.
Having a plan for when things go wrong is vital too, with a realistic risk register as part of your control mechanism – not one that’s done just for the sake of it. This will enable you to minimise the ‘known unknowns’. As for the unknown unknowns, you can probably identify most of those if you keep an open mind about what could go wrong.
Then you just need to build in time to tackle unforeseeable problems that will – as every rational pessimist knows – crop up unexpectedly. When a problem strikes, you need time to consider exactly what’s gone wrong and what the solution is. Are the issues you’re seeing symptoms of an underlying problem that you should be tackling?
A coherent set of documents that accurately tracks the project parameters across contracts is certainly important. The contracts linking different elements of a project together must also link together, but relationships between people are the real key. You can have a bad contract where the parties work well together. Similarly, conflicting teams can ruin the best-laid plans.
Ultimately, on any project you have to keep the end goal in mind – and that means focussing on quality. This isn’t exclusively about ISO 9000 but about the definition of what the end product should be. Start with the end in mind, do the basics well and you should avoid any disputes, these will cost you dearly in time and money – even if you win.
Mike Pickin, Associate Consultant – WSP