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Don't Shoot the Messenger -PROJECT CONTROLS AND INFORMATION ARE YOUR FRIEND NOT ENEMY!

In the delivery of any project their are plenty of meetings. Meetings with internal stakeholders, meetings with external stakeholders, suppliers, subcontractors and many many more. At each meetings decisions are made, build from the left, build from the right, to or the bottom. So it is no surprise that at each meeting participants normally run for statistics, demanding information and project data that will hopefully make that decision making a bit more predictable.

Whilst the majority of the data screamed for relates to time and cost, other statistics such as safety, environmental and quality are all as equally important and can actually be a aid to ensuring that those more prominent statistics are robust. But what happens when there is a fraction in the camp. A difference in opinion on either what the data is showing or worse the actual position of the project?

Anyone who has worked for a large or small building contractor will know that the one of the most important times in a project and probably stressful for that matter, are when project reviews happen. The one internally and the one externally. Hard to differentiate which is the most demanding, but in my own personal experience, coming up the ranks, i would say that there is not that much to choose between the two. Both provide an opportunity for stakeholders to get up close and personal with the project management team and from the sanctuary of the board room table embark with there own unique style of criticality and questioning.

Now I have sat in a fir few of these meeting throughout my career on both sides of the fence, but the ones that really stand out are the ones where you own professional opinion doesn't quite align with the message that is being conveyed by the team. You will know the ones - Mr. Optimistic steps forward and presents utopia, "...projects all on track, making money...", Mr. Pessimistic steps forward and says "... oh woe is me the sky is falling in...". The rest of the team sit there dumb with either youthful ignorance or that moody glaze that lets you know more from what they don't say than what they do.

These meetings and discussions should be quite straight forward. We have all done the courses on how to measure Earned Value, SPI's, CPI's, KPI's and any other "I's" that we have dreamt up along the way. We should therefore be able to tip tap on the calculator, draw up a graph or two and all reach the same conclusions as to how the project is doing. Why therefore is it not that simple to actually do this? and why therefore do we see, month on month shifting statistics that are difficult to explain, let alone predict?

We have witnessed this phenomenon on a few occasions. Ever changing programmes, dancing forecasts on costs, all presented with a messaging that is not consistent, not coordinated with the data, the projects progress, the cash in the bank and of course one of the best ways to find out what is going on, those innocuous rumblings from the shop floor!

So how do your really find out what is going on? and predict the outcomes. Well our first piece of advise is simple - Don't shoot the messenger! Your companies DNA will be the first indicator of whether you are getting the real position as those who are at the rock face see it. Experience in our business does count for a lot, therefore take cognisance of that gut. The company's and those direct managers overall positioning and responses to bad news, good news or just news in general, can have an enormous effect on how people present them selves and data at project reviews. This can also be affected by an individuals stake in a particular type of outcome. So be mindful - lambaste someone constantly for bad news and the basic rules of conditioning (we all remember pavlov!) will result in the world becoming a very rosy place in deed.


For a project to succeed, project reviews need to have a brutal honesty on what is going well and what is going badly. They need to bring individuals together so that collectively problems can be addressed together.This is not always easy to do, admitted, therefore here are a few words of wisdom.

(1) Don't shoot the Messenger.... really don't!

It sort of goes with the title! But how many times have you been shot down for sharing a concern? Sharing a insight? it happens to the best of us all the time. Why then choose to lash out at someone who is trying to draw your attention to something that they think is important and need some attention.

Take a breath, sit back and listen (dead pigeons really don't delibver much), avoid the urge to think everyone is after a quick buck (or two) - you never know you may find the information of valuable importance that enables you to actually make a difference and stop a proverbial train wreck.

(2) Have un-ambiguous set of Project Controls

(3) Trackers, Trackers, Trackers....

Enforce rigour and attention to detail

(4) Always get a advance copy of the Project Report(s)

(5) Be aware of what is "not said"

(6) Minute them

(7) Don't skip meetings - a lot can happen in a short period on a project

(8) Include a Site Walk around before the meeting

(9) Ask questions of everyone necessarily

(10) Stay focused on the project goal


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