Project Management

Benchmarking, Investment Analysis and Front-End Planning

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My blog is part of my passion for professional development—of myself and others. My areas of project management experience and expertise are benchmarking, investment analysis and front-end planning, and my blog will covers these subject in a series of posts.

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In the first of my series on Investment Analysis, I open with an introduction to the subject based on the material I presented at a a series of three seminars for the UK Chapter PMI during 2018 and 2019.

Imagine you are leading a project and your instinct tells you there is a flaw in the business case; is there something missing in the investment analysis.  What do you do?

Back in the mid 1990’s , I was part of a project negotiating team looking to do a deal between my company and a National Oil Company.  

Involved were representatives of the National Oil Company – local sheikh’s ; their advisors and from my company senior business and project executives.  We were in a grand house in London.  This was the house that senior executives would use for big meetings – they even had a butler and chef in the kitchen.

I was relatively inexperienced and responsible for the project analysis and business case. One of the first things I learnt about investment analysis which is fundamental is the importance of the assumptions that are being made. My analysis included data and assumptions on all the key variables and showed that one of the biggest uncertainties was the logistic cost of moving the finished product.  Would there be a fixed tariff – $/tonne or would further investment $m be required in port facilities for distributing the product. 

I could see that a high freight cost or significant additional capital cost would make the project much less economic.  I pointed this out to my senior company executive and he asked me to present the economic case and draw attention to the key assumptions including the logistics uncertainties.

I remember being in the oak panelled board room sitting at a large oval table, with the smell of fine wood panelling .  Round the able there were the sheiks, their expert advisors and the company executives.  The discussions were intense and it came to the shared economic model that I had prepared.  I felt nervous because I had big news to present – and maybe a deal breaker.

Our chief business executive, a gnarly, grizzly sort of character turned to me and said, ‘Tim, please present the project economics’.  

Everyone went quiet – I outlined the economics – then I highlighted the impact of the uncertainty on the logistics assumptions – the consequence on the project value of a significant $/tonne charge and/or a multi $m investment cost for jetties and loading facilities.  I sensed the interest and tension in the room – I paused and looked at my boss and he said very firmly ‘carry on Tim’  – the stage was truly mine and I was away – the adrenaline flowing.   I was then chairing a discussion of the project value and the key drivers –  there was a lot of heated debate about the facts – AND the logistic costs were accepted as a key variable –  to manage the uncertainty there was an undertaking from the National Oil Company that these would not impact the project economics – they would cover these arrangements.  

 And later that day the deal was done,,,,,

The learning for me was that having a shared understanding and clarity on the project assumptions – the facts – helped drive a good deal.  For me all projects need that clarity up front and the PM would do well to have that understanding as well.  

Having been given the stage by a senior executive my career never looked back – It was an opportunity to lead that I grasped and become a company subject matter expert in the matter of investment analysis – and here I am today to share that expertise with you.

I have discussed the subject of Investment Analysis with many Project Managers and there is a view that the project economics are not normally the responsibility of the Project Manager; but I would argue that it would be helpful for PM’s to understand the drivers of value that underpin a project.

Over the next few weeks of this blog my aim is to give you a greater awareness of the key factors affecting the business case and give you greater confidence in questioning and challenging the decisions that have the biggest impact on the business case both before the project is sanctioned and when the project is in flight.

Posted on: March 03, 2020 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Benchmarking Project Practices

To continue my series of blogs on benchmarking, for my first of three professional examples I will focus on benchmarking of project practices.  I have three complementary benchmarks of project best practices to share – they are front end planning, team alignment and project complexity.

Project Practice – Front End Planning –  the first example is the Project Definition Rating Index (PDRI) – a tool developed by the North American Construction Industry Institute (CII) to benchmark the quality and completeness of front end planning. This was an area of research I was deeply involved in as a company representative and co-leader of the industry working group. The PDRI measures shows the progression of development of front end plans through the early project stages.  The level of progression is measured by a finely tuned checklist of over 70 elements weighted by importance covering three sections – Basis of Project Decision, Project Design and Execution Approach.  A lower score is better and the there is a range of acceptable score against outcomes determined by research based on a large sample size of completed projects.  The research has shown that proper front end planning and measured by the PDRI leads to more predictable cost and schedule outcomes. For more on the PDRI

Project Practice – Team Alignment – the second example of is the team alignment.  The tool is called the Team Alignment Thermometer also developed by the CII.  There are several dimensions to project team functionality that have been proven to be important to project success.  There are four main dimensions that are measured by a team member questionnaire – with the collated results discussed in a team workshop.  The four dimensions are Culture – leadership communication and behaviours; Project execution processes; Information on clear project priorities and objectives and fourthly Team working processes and behaviours.   The exercise of measuring alignment in a workshop greatly aids team development by identifying gaps and fostering an environment of openness and collaboration. For more on the Alignment Thermometer

Project Practice – House of Complexity – the third example is a measure of complexity developed with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA and tested on a portfolio of International and oil and gas industry projects  – The House of complexity has three main dimensions – technical, (the technological challenge for the project) institutional (the political, geographical and organisational context for the project); and architectural (how the project is set up) – which can add significant complexity when there are distributed project teams and complicated governance arrangements. For those of you interested to read further, here is an academic paper from Engineering Project Organization Journal

Front End Planning, Team Alignment and Complexity have been proven by the CII and others to significantly impact project performance in terms of cost, schedule and outcomes.

Project Practice – Evidence of Schedule Slip v Team Alignment and Complexity There was an important insight from the analysis I undertook on around 20 oil and gas industry projects. I found that there is a the linkage between schedule outcomes and the combination of project complexity and team alignment.  Charting the data shows on the y axis schedule slippage from low to high and the x axis the function of combining project team alignment with project complexity;  the clear result is that greater the project complexity combined with lesser team alignment – the more likely is schedule slippage.  The analysis indicated a strong trend – with a statistical R2 correlation of 0.74 of the data-points and the calculated trend.

Put another way the schedule slippage is lower for less complex projects and most importantly is reduced by greater project team alignment and functionality.

That completes my tour of project best practices and the complementary benchmarks for front end planning, team alignment and complexity.

I am sure you will have your own professional examples of Benchmarking where data helps you in achieving business goals, please share any that you think would be of interest to this community.  Over the next month I will share my second and third professional examples of benchmarking at work, particularly in the context of projects and project management.

 

 

Posted on: January 03, 2020 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Art and Science of Benchmarking

Categories: plan, planning

In the first in my blog series on Benchmarking I will opens with an introduction to the subject.  The material is based on a presentation I gave this year for a PMI UK webinar and an evening seminar for the PMI UK South

What is benchmarking?

Looking back at history, a benchmark was surveyor’s mark cut in a wall, pillar, or building and used as a reference point in measuring altitudes and levels. In today’s context, I like to describe benchmarking as the considered use of data as a way achieving three things.  Firstly, driving continuous improvement; secondly to support target setting and thirdly to foster sharing and learning across an organisation and with outside peers;

Put simply – Benchmarking is achieving important goals by comparing performance with colleagues and peers, using data.  To illustrate this, I have one personal and three professional examples which I will cover in a series of future blogs including this one.

To start with my personal example earlier this year with my daughter, I completed the London Winter 10km charity run.  We ran the course together, beat our target of going under one hour and raised over £1000 for Cancer Research.

A big part of achieving this goal was based on using the fantastic Park Run – who has heard of that – who has run?   Park Run is a weekly 5km group run, held at 100’s of locations mainly in the UK but increasingly also around the world.  It starts at 9.00 am every Saturday morning, has changed many people lives and for me provides the motivation to participate and improve my performance, supported by easily accessible data.  The data comes from the clever use of technology and is a simple matter of registering on the Park Run web site,  With registration comes a bar code and when you finish the Park Run the timers scan your code and give you a recorded time – with all the others – over 170,000 people in the UK each weekend.  For me a big incentive is also running with family and friends.   You get a record of your performance each time you run and a comparison to your previous performance; a personal best recorded for each different course you run; a comparison to others and very usefully, an age related % performance.  This all supports of an overall goal of keeping fit, and healthy, having opportunities to spend time with friends and family and as a bonus raising money for charity.

I am sure you will have your own examples of Benchmarking where data helps you in achieving personal goals. Following this blog I will share three professional examples of benchmarking at work, particularly in the context of projects and project management.

Posted on: December 10, 2019 06:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)
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