Sumit Gupta, Managing Director, and Partner, BCG, and Rahul Bongale, Principal, BCG in an interaction with Sudhakar Singh, Editor, Industry Outlook, share their thoughts on how digital technology is transforming Project Management.
Even after the implementation of technology tools for project management, businesses continue to witness cost overruns and project delays. What are the reasons and what should be the way forward?
There are three reasons that typically cause the overruns. Firstly, although people have deployed digital tools and technologies such as Microsoft Project or a Primavera P6, there are parallel manually built excels that are being utilized for project tracking purposes. Therefore, the need of the hour is to shift towards technology-based solutions on a day-to-day functioning level, rather than just deploying for representative purposes.
Secondly, there are a lot of delays happening because of the interdependencies between external contractors, contract labor providers, vendors who are supplying equipment, etc.. So, it is important that how you bring them altogether so that the timelines are running in conjunction, rather than running independently.
Thirdly, what this pandemic has shown is the power of uncertainty. So how do you use a scenario-based risk modeling kind of approach is crucial.
When it comes to agility, ‘Scope Creep’ is a classic project management challenge (for example: the requirements of a project change from what was originally agreed at project initiation/inception). How do you think agile project management methodology can be driven successfully to solve such issues?
Scope Creep or scope realignment is a reality and happens in almost all projects, whether private projects or even some of the government announced projects, where once you are into implementation, several changes are required. There are two things which need to be done. One is how you leverage data for decision-making, as it becomes extremely critical because certain assumptions have been made at the time of original concept design, versus what things have changed. The more it can be quantified, the more easily it can be solved.
Secondly, most often, Scope Creep occurs owing to inefficient planning upfront. Organizations want to get into execution without spending time upfront – into planning the micro details. The time you spend on the upfront design and engineering part and do it in a concise sustained and exhaustive manner is another way of taking the scope creeps out.
Lastly, once the scope creep happens, you can discuss and debate whose fault it was. But the fact of the matter is that you have to address it sooner than later. It is crucial to get all relevant organizations / departments in the same room, given it involves multiple stakeholders – For example in case of design changes - your designer needs to come in, your engineering contractor needs to come in, your EPC contractor needs to come in, and then finally, the developer and the subcontractors who are working on the ground all need to come together. So that this can be quickly replanned and done in a fast-paced manner with minimal impact on the overall project cost and timelines.
The data-driven decision-making is supercritical when it comes to delays. So, how do you enable this data-driven problem-solving capability within organizations? One of the ways which we are enabling our clients to do is by pivoting away from traditional static presentations for management reviews to these interactive dashboards with live data, enabling active issue resolution. These platforms allow one to review delays and overruns at the required level of
details, take live decisions, create escalations to the management, etc. in the same tool. CXOs need to focus their time on escalated issues with the right level of detail, rather than spend time on lengthy project reports.
According to a study, 39% of projects failed due to lack of clearly defined project goals. Therefore, how challenging is it to bring all stakeholders on the same page and have a clear vision of the project?
For any project, there are always competing priorities. Every organization wants to do it in the fastest manner, have the best project outcome whether it is quality of construction, the quality of equipment installed, etc. and at the same time, cost has to be L1 as well. Thereby, the project management needs to lay out the project vision and goals very clearly, and then orchestrate the full project planning and execution team in that direction.
It is important to understand what are some of the tools, platforms available for the management to drive alignment at various points in time in the project. Let's take a classic case of a trade-off between cost versus timelines on the project. In such a situation, ‘thinking in scenarios’ is critical for the project management. This is a core capability that needs to be built in our project teams to enable them in taking those dynamic decisions, ensuring that multiple stakeholders are engaged and are a part of decision making. So once you think about the multiple input variables, resultant scenarios and the trade-off in each scenario output - decisions are better informed than before and allow for an alignment across relevant stakeholders.
When the project execution begins, how important is it for the project manager to monitor the progress by setting project milestones? And how can it be done in the best way?
The most critical part of the project is setting up the overall project plan with clearly laid out milestones. What we advise our clients is that their milestones need to be at a fortnightly level, so that progress monitoring can be done at a detailed level.
Secondly, as the plan is being created, it is very important to think about interdependencies. Given, the project is not just an outcome from a single department, rather you need the project team, the operations/execution team, the procurement team, etc. to come together to deliver a project successfully. So how do you create the right interdependency chart that would ensure laying out the right incentives and tracking those as well.
From an execution and monitoring perspective, moving away from project plans created in silo - to interdependency-based plans is one of the best practices. Secondly, pushing for project plans with the right level of detail is key – we have seen many project plans with no or minimal activity detailing. Thirdly, moving to standardized but digital project review templates allow for streamlined reviews, where the time of the management is spent on decision making than trying to make sense of project specific template.
Lastly, how do you bring all of this together. Specifically for some of the larger EPC players, we have helped build integrated control tower that allows reviewing multiple projects on a single screen. The executives then have a one-stop view for all the projects across all relevant leading indicators schedule, cost, safety, etc.
How do you foresee the changes in project management in the near future?
Project management will become increasingly technology-oriented and focused on data - this is a clear trend we are observing over the last few years. Companies managing several projects can no longer manage them on static tools or excel. Furthermore, project managers have realized that labor availability, manpower shortages are part of life, specifically over the last couple of years. And hence, investments in automation, technologies can aid manpower and productivity improvements. Lastly, collaboration with suppliers, other stakeholders during the entire project management journey will continue to be important
Firstly, it is creating ‘integrated project control towers’ – For companies managing multiple projects, central control towers driving single source of truth are a need of the hour to drive agile decision making. Secondly, owing to the pandemic, it is very important for companies to think about building ‘supply chain resilience’. Given uncertainty (both cost and timing) in global supply chains, procurement teams are expanding their supplier base and qualifying new suppliers to minimize risks. And lastly, building an enhanced focus on strategic innovation. This will require creating a formal organization focused on innovation that leverages both crises and evolving customer needs (for example, the innovation and business pivots which we saw in telehealth and ed-tech platforms during the pandemic).