Capital Project System Improvement: A Four-Step Guide

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How do we build organizations that consistently deliver successful capital projects?

When it comes to capital project system improvement, this is the billion-dollar question: How do we build organizations that consistently, systematically deliver successful capital projects? The sector is overrun with untested advice, half-baked ideas and fractured concepts, as if a list of “easy tips and tricks” could ever be sufficient for improving outcomes on multi-billion dollar capital projects.

In this article, I’m going to tell you exactly how I answer this question for my clients, in clear and simple terms. Notice I said simple, not easy. This process is simple but requires investment, commitment and tenacity to achieve. These are rare.

Step 1 » Define what success means for your company

What does a successful capital project delivery system look like for your company? What are your unique criteria? We can all agree that success means delivering projects safely, on-time and on-budget. We can also agree that success means delivering operable assets that satisfy the business goal. But beyond this, what does success mean for your organization?

A meaningful definition of success is always tied to business context. Have you had a recent fatality and moved safety to the top of your priority list? Or perhaps you have a high number of projects in the pipeline, so on-time delivery is a priority, no matter the cost? Do you want to maximize your return on investment? Maximize value?

If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Get focused on what success means to you in terms that clearly define the trade-offs between cost, schedule, business considerations, engineering and construction considerations, as well as operability.

Step 2 » Identify: Who are we, as a capital project organization?

The only way to know who you really are as a company is to talk to your people. C-suite executives run the risk of being out of touch, operating, as they do, at a distant remove from day-to-day operations.

Survey employee perceptions around capital project system improvement, then collect and analyze the data. Ask:

  • How are we doing?
  • Are we competitive?
  • Are we predictable?
  • Are we capable or vulnerable?
  • Are we wishful thinkers?
  • Are we risk-averse?
  • Do we keep to our schedules?
  • Are we estimating projects with accuracy?
  • Are our processes functioning well?
  • Is our technology working properly?
  • Does our project delivery platform work?

The goal here is to assess your organizational maturity and find out where you stand. Your employees can tell you far more than a consultant can. Talk to them.

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Step 3 » Build your Predictability Blueprint

Once you define success and understand who you are as a company, you can figure out exactly what you need to do to get where you want to go. You can do this by undertaking a strategic planning exercise that will help you organize the most effective and efficient way to achieve your improvement goals.

Here at Concord, we leverage tools like the Balanced Scorecard in combination with our own proprietary processes to help you develop a Predictability Blueprint — a straightforward strategy that contains specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based goals that will drive results.

Once developed, use your Blueprint to inform and drive your day-to-day decisions as you implement your capital project system improvement plan. This way, you can be sure that your people and resources are helping to move your organization toward your most important goals, every single day.

Step 4 » Cascading Leadership: Show, Don’t Tell

Nobody can change an organization alone. Good leaders drive change forward by empowering their people with information, skills and resources. The first step is to identify your change agents — these are the people who will implement the change at various levels of the organization’s hierarchy. Second, you want to make sure they have contributed to developing the Blueprint or, at minimum, that they understand your Blueprint and the rationale behind it. Finally, empower them with what they need to lead change: in their departments, on their teams, and for themselves.

This is called Cascading Leadership: It is the ability to define what each person and entity in your organization needs to do to deliver the change you want to see for the business as a whole. The Cascading Leadership approach recognizes that change is like an army, with generals, colonels and soldiers all operating together, under one clear command. The command is driven by a clear aligned vision and mission and a Predictability Blueprint well suited for your organization. You cannot succeed at Step 4 if you haven’t accomplished Steps 1 through 3.

Reflection and Conclusion

I want to reiterate that these steps are simple, but they are not easy. Concord has been a trailblazer in empowering executives and leaders to drive change in their organizations, and we have partnered with some of the world’s biggest capital project organizations to transform their project delivery systems using the strategies I’ve outlined above. If you’re ready to take the next step in your project predictability journey, contact us today.

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