Every programme or project requires effective support and proactive leadership to be delivered economically and expediently. But these factors alone do not guarantee success. Here, Peter Osborne of LOC Consulting considers common causes of delivery issues and discusses five questions that programme sponsors should ask.

Leadership – Are the right leaders with the right skills in place?

Companies often appoint senior personnel to manage projects based on availability or cost instead of experience and skills. With unsuitable leadership, a team can lose clarity of purpose and become disengaged with the project. At this point, the delivery culture fails and the initiative dissolves into disarray, with the leader left holding the various elements together. Commitment and know-how at the top is crucial, and members of the delivery team must believe decisions are made with the necessary gravitas. It is therefore essential that leadership inspires confidence at all levels –stakeholders, sponsors, team members, suppliers and beyond.

Clarity of Purpose – Do your stakeholders and sponsors describe objectives and business benefits the same way?

It is vital that all team members understand the expected scope and business benefits of a project. Performance reviews must be agreed, evaluated and communicated regularly to verify delivery targets. Regular assessment also increases clarity of purpose and enables project aims to be realigned to current business needs. This structure can be imposed internally through top-down authority or through an external party that has specialist project delivery knowledge. Both methods require the right leaders to be in the right decision-making roles to ensure consistency of business objectives throughout the project. When a delivery team lacks clarity of purpose, projects will consistently fail to make visible progress until deeper issues are addressed.

Effective Governance – Can you make decisions quickly and are you confident delivery milestones will be achieved on time?

Having the right decision-making processes in place within a project creates effective governance that inspires confidence in achieving timetabled milestones. For example, periodic steering groups must be scheduled at a project’s beginning for change approvals on agenda items. Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to organise such meetings on an ad-hoc basis. If a problem arises, mechanisms must be in place to authorise quick decisions and avert project delays. Governance structure needs to be tailored to the project‘s requirements to be effective. Regularly reviewing progress also is paramount to achieving aims and milestones on schedule.

Delivery Culture –Does your team do what it says it will, in the time agreed?

Some organisations are not designed to deliver change projects. They might usually focus on sales, marketing or e-commerce, for example, but circumstances necessitate they embark on a change programme. In such contexts, leadership often lacks proper experience and teams fail to see the project as a priority sanctioned by senior personnel. Without commitment, experience and knowledge from leadership, unforeseen challenges emerge and pre-emptive solutions are not in place. It is like building a house extension but knocking out a supporting wall; without the right culture, delivering a project is tricky.

Smart Processes – Does your team do things the same way and use time effectively?

Having a customised delivery process enables team members to measure their progress against a control framework. This is essential not only for creating visibility for stakeholders, but also to illustrate where stages are being mishandled, such as quality slipping due to financial or time restraints. Any disjunction between the smart process and reality highlights the impact of not following the guide. For example, in construction there are clear procedures for erecting a building. If the foundation is not placed first, then any other construction on the site is impractical and extremely difficult to correct. Processes for delivery are much the same. If you are not doing the right things at the right stages, delays will be caused further on, making it much harder to deliver the project to schedule.

If a problem arises in one of these five areas, then the trigger can usually be rectified internally, but if two or more start to be hampered then they may signal a fundamental issue and need for a health check or recovery. The most common signs indicating a project needs to be put in recovery are cost pressure and time pressure. Whilst any of these issues can be corrected, it becomes increasingly difficult as a project progresses. So time is of the essence in identifying and correcting issues to ensure effective project delivery.