16.07.2015 : Bruce Marks

The project objectives are obvious, aren’t they?

Once you have agreed the project objectives it is important that they are embedded in the whole project team. A copy signed by the lead stakeholders is the starting document. This usually starts with a project specific induction for all project team members as they join the team.

All projects have objectives, typically, addressing performance in safety, quality, cost and schedule.

Performance in safety management and environmental management are non-negotiable but it is always valuable to check that everyone’s expectations are aligned.  Zero harm is a good objective, but be sure to confirm what that means in terms of a measure e.g. a target of zero lost time injuries or zero environmental notifications.

Performance in quality needs absolute clarity as different stakeholders can have quite different expectations. For example on a recent industrial project one of the quality objectives was “To not invest in any facilities required for future expansions or upgrades” This is a key definition to allow the project manager to rigorously manage change.

Another example of how important it is to get the quality objectives agreed is that at the end of thirty months of hard work a client stated that he hoped our design could operate for six years between shutdowns as they had just made a strategic decision to extend their time between shutdowns from four to six years.

My reply was that it was unfortunate that we did not know that at the outset as all the equipment had been procured under a specification that required the equipment to be warranted to operate continuously for four years without a shutdown.

The cost objective needs to address both capital cost and operating cost. All assets have capital and operating costs and these are usually traded off against each other. Motorways are a good example where resurfacing is a considerable operating cost and once the road is in operation, road closure management and repaving, usually at night, is a considerable cost. Consequently, having a clear definition of the capex / opex relationship is key to a satisfied stakeholder at the project completion.

It is not easy to nail the cost and schedule project objectives because if you ask a client what their objectives are, you will usually get a reply that they want the lowest cost and the shortest schedule. This combination is never possible as either cost or schedule will dominate the other.

Most projects are cost driven but it is productive to get clarity and confirm the drivers. A good question to ask to determine this is “If during the execution of the project the forecast cost is 10% under the budget, would you like the team to spend the under run and finish two weeks earlier or would you like to maintain the under run at project completion.” If the client desires to maintain the under run, which is the most common answer, then your project is cost driven.

Once you have agreed the project objectives it is important that they are embedded in the whole project team. A copy signed by the lead stakeholders is the starting document.

This usually starts with a project specific induction for all project team members as they join the team.

It is important that they are large and visible in the project office, whether it is in the home office or the construction site.

On a large project it can take several months to get alignment and sign off but it is a vital step on all projects if you want to have satisfied stakeholders at project completion.

About the Author

Bruce Marks

Chief Engineer - Industrial Project Delivery

Bruce is a highly experienced and skilled project director who has delivered tremendous value for clients, particularly on large projects. As Chief Engineer – Industrial Project Delivery, he has successfully led complex, fast-track projects of over US$500m in value.

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Hemant Anand · 22/07/2015 10:37:50 a.m.
Well written! I agree it is important to get the objectives clear and it takes a few months to get an alignment. If these are communicated well to the team- the project is set up for success.

Iain · 20/07/2015 11:59:54 a.m.
Well put, Bruce. Making major decisions that require compromise or measuring project success at project closeout is difficult (impossible?) without project objectives being agreed up front. I also concur that getting them agreed can take months to get key stakeholders aligned, which just shows how 'unclear' they really are!