Is Your Company Rubbish at Projects? – (problem may not be where you think)

“We are just not so good at doing projects – can you provide a good project process diagram?”, asked a close friend of mine recently who sits on a board of a small/medium sized enterprise.

I asked him what he wanted to do with it – he mentioned it was for their project managers. His company was taking on larger clients which translated to larger projects.

The problem he said was that they probably were not following good process as projects never seemed to end and were not ultimately producing desired results.

Further he mentioned, there was never any meaningful information coming out of these projects that could be discussed at board level and the information they did have was just too into the weeds.

OK – here was my thought process:

  • 1st thing to come to mind: – “Process diagram – Ha – too easy!!”
  • 2nd thing to come to mind: – “OK errrr…where should I start???”
  • 3rd thing to come to mind: – “Can I really provide a single and effective project management process for a company I know nothing about? I could provide a simple project life-cycle process, but what about Risk Management, or Quality Management Processes? Which processes should I include / not include?”
  • 4th thing to come to mind: – “Do I just hand them a PRINCE2 manual??”
  • 5th thing to come to mind: – “Perhaps they just did not hire the right people?”
  • 6th thing to come to mind: – “Will just handing any process diagram – no matter how good it is – really work?”
  • 7th thing to come to mind: –“Can I really help here at all?”

Eager to help my friend out, I pondered over the next couple of days how I would approach this and started to consider that perhaps the problem is not where we think.

I responded with the following email:

—– Start of email —–

Subject: RE: Project Manager stuff – this may help

Have been thinking and perhaps rather than provide a process diagram of how to manage projects (and in effect trying to teach Project Managers how to manage projects), the best approach maybe is to set governance at the Executive Level that will drive the required project management process required by the company and ultimately the results you want.

Is this what’s missing?

Consider doing the following:

  • Nominate one of the Executives to act as a somewhat “Project Director” for the projects being run.
  • To kick things off, the newly nominated Project director will set a 30 min to 1 hour catch-up each week with each of the Project Managers and go through pertinent items important to the organisation.

The following is a list of prompters:


  • What deliverables are we delivering for this project?
  • Which deliverables have been completed and which are outstanding?
  • To what standard do these deliverables need to be and has this been agreed with the client?

Customer (can be either internal or external):

  • Who is the customer that will benefit from this project?
  • What is the name of the person that will sign-off on the deliverables?
  • Is that person being kept up-to date with project progress?
  • Have we locked in and got sign-off from the customer with respect to their requirements, as well as quality, cost and schedule expectations?
  • Has the customer defined what constitutes a successful project? (these need to be in a measurable form)
  • How is the customer feeling about the project and what’s the basis? (e.g. why are they happy or not so happy?)


  • What’s the current agreed schedule?
  • How is the project currently tracking against the agreed schedule? (e.g. are we going to complete the project on time?)
  • If not on schedule why not?


  • What’s current agreed allocated budget for the project?
  • How is the project currently tracking against the allocated budget?
  • If not on budget, why not?


  • Has the scope and boundaries of the project been locked in?
  • Is there a need to extend the scope, or has it been asked that we scope in extra things? (if so, the Project Manager needs to put in a Project Change Request to potentially extend budget and schedule to cater for the extra work required)
  • Has the project already accepted requests to do more, but has not formally agreed this with all pertinent parties and furthermore without asking for extra time or money? (if so, what’s been the impact?)


  • Is the project set to complete the required deliverables to the quality expectations of the customer?
  • Are there any quality risks or issues in relation to what is being delivered? (if so, what are we doing about it?)


  • What are the largest risks the projects have at this point in time?
  • What is the Project Manager doing to mitigate the risks?
  • Are there any issues or road blocks that are preventing the project from moving forward?


  • Who’s who in the project team?
  • Is the project adequately resourced?
  • Are people performing tasks assigned and completing the deliverables agreed?

Project Status Report:

  • Insist that a project status report is submitted at regular intervals e.g. each week or perhaps each fortnight
  • Ensure the status report provides a good high-level summary on how the project is tracking with indicators that both you and your client would want to see on there, such as cost, schedule and output of deliverables, etc.
  • Get the project manager to also publish the report to the client as well as core project team members. That’s one way to help ensure that all parties are on the same page.


  • How is the Project Manager feeling? (are they coping or drowning? / are they confident or unsure?)
  • Is there anything that the Project Director / or the company executive need to do to help ease a project hurdle / risk / issue?

The thing is – if the nominated Project Director sits with the Project Manager each week and sets as mandatory that such information be provided, it will in turn drive the Project Manager to create processes to satisfy this active governance requirement.

Projects cannot run without properly defined limits and boundaries against schedule, budget, quality, scope and expected benefits.

If governance is not set and pro-activity enforced around these from the executive layer downwards, the company simply cannot expect projects to be delivered to the desired standards and outcomes it requires.

It may be a slow painful process at the start, however I can assure you it will improve each week and start paying dividends!

Hope this helps,


—– End of email —–


There are 2 conclusions here – the 1st being that sometimes both the problem and the solution are not where we initially think and that the bigger picture needs to also be considered.

The 2nd conclusion is around governance. Perhaps this is put best by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.(chairman of the board and chief executive officer of IBM from April 1993 until 2002):

“The real mechanism for corporate governance is the active involvement of the owners.”

What scenarios have you been involved in where taking a more active approach to governance has benefited your organisation? 

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About Rick Ktorides, Senior Project Manager

Rick Ktorides is a Senior Project Manager/Consultant who has successfully delivered a wide variety of complex projects across Australia, Asia, Europe and North America to business end-users across various levels and industry verticals.

As Frontline’s Senior Project Manager, Rick offers project management services to our customers across Application, Development and Infrastructure Projects.

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