This is the last installment of six-part series about leadership for engineers preparing for their first professional leadership role.
Not every project you undertake as a leader is going to work out, sometimes you may find yourself having to make the decision to pull the plug. You may already have seen this in your engineering career and if not, you will.
According to Project Management Institute (PMI), only 62% of projects met their original goals and business intent. PMI’s analysis of projects worldwide reveals that for every $1 billion spent in projects, $135 million was at risk from failure. Put another way, 13.5% of every project dollar you will touch is at risk.
As an engineering leader, you’re responsible as much for engineering project success and protection of resources as you are for your team’s performance. In fact, in most organizations failure to deliver projects within cost, on time, and within scope on a consistent basis will result in a sacking. However, sometimes a project will far exceed resources or require someone new with the skills to get it back on track.
As a leader, you’re responsible for maintaining awareness about your projects and knowing when to cut losses and cancel a project or ask for help from an outside entity who can get the project back on track.
Engineers Create Success with Performance Measurement and Risk Assessment
Engineering project success can be achieved on projects by understanding the key performance measures and critical success factors of the projects. Most engineering organizations – both public and private sector – have a methodology for measuring and assessing projects. So, start here: learn what the methodology is in your organization for measuring and assessing projects.
Next, understand how your organization undertakes risk assessment on projects. Every project we lead will have risks and as the leader, it’s your responsibility to properly understand what they are and how – or if – you’ll need to do something about the risk. Unfortunately, in many organizations a proper risk assessment isn’t conducted leading to statistics like this from a McKinsey & Company assessment of IT projects in 2012:
- 17% of large IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company
- On average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over schedule, while delivering 56% less value than predicted
The final step after you understand the processes used for performance measurement and risk assessment, is to make modifications to them to suit your team’s situation. Not every process fits the project at hand or the people that are managing the project. If you need to make adjustments to the processes for measuring performance and assessing risk, then do so.
4 Questions to Keep You Aligned Towards Engineering Project Success
Beyond performance measures and risk assessment tools, an engineering leader needs to employ some intuition and reflection in assessing the viability of projects underway. Think about the statistics on major IT projects above. Why would a company with intelligent project managers and engineers continue to execute a failing project that might lead to the company’s failure? No doubt they have performance measures and someone has conducted risk assessments. But they continue to plod onwards, potentially towards complete failure.
They do this because they’ve lost alignment with the project’s original scope and are unable to distance themselves to see it. Giving yourself distance from a serious issue will create the gap into which better decisions can be introduced. Some questions that you can use to create the gap include:
- What is the desired outcome of this project?
- Where is the project in achieving this outcome?
- What are the additional resources needed to achieve the desired outcome?
- Is the outcome still aligned with our strategy?
Leadership in an engineering organization is complex. You need the right mix of core skills to guide, support, and engage people and teams; as well as the technical skills to understand the what, why and how of a project. The mix of tools, techniques and experience are what will be called on for making tough decisions about continuing on a project or pulling the plug.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on engineering project success.
To your success,
Christian Knutson, PE, PMP
Engineering Management Institute