Tactics vs. Principles in Capital Project Management

Tactics are faddish, reactive and changeable. Principles last forever.


Tactics are not enough to solve the problems we’re facing in contemporary capital project management. We need principles. More to the point, we need to adopt principle-driven Advanced Work Packaging for capital projects.

You already know that AWP works: Studies have shown time and again that projects using AWP are more likely to be on-time and on-budget. But AWP isn’t a mere tactic, a management fad that will be jettisoned when the next great idea or system comes along.

When implemented correctly, AWP is a reliable, durable, principle-driven response to deeply entrenched, industry-wide problems. It is the key to capital project system renewal, which is desperately needed in an industry where projects are perpetually late and almost always over-budget. The time is now.

Here at Velocity®, we started the discussion about the principles that underpin AWP, and we’re committed to helping refine those principles over time. It helps that we are on the front lines of AWP implementation, supporting full-scale capital project system renewal at some of the world’s most exceptional companies. We are sharing what we’re learning, as we go.


The Problem With Tactics 

Tactics are not solutions, but they’re often implemented as if they are. We adopt new technology, implement a new work process or engage a new tool, and we expect results. We fall for the marketing copy. We want to believe the hype.

Tactics rarely work because capital projects are complex, and no single technology or managerial approach takes all the moving pieces into account. The business context, company culture, contracting strategy, and incentives — all of these will either help or harm the efficacy of your new tactics. If you’re not respectful of everyone’s interests, the project won’t function well.

Why do we insist on maintaining this kind of piecemeal approach to capital project improvement?

At Concord®, we take a different approach. We step back and look at the big picture. We bring together a multi-disciplinary coalition of experts to execute a principle-based, AWP-driven capital project renewal process. In addition to traditional subject matter experts, we focus on the alignment of interests in your organization, leadership development, and overall organizational health, among other things. All of these have been ignored in our industry for far too long.


AWP: Not Just Work Packages

Advanced Work Packaging is not just about work packages. AWP implementation is an unrivaled opportunity for the Owners and the project team to build a coalition that will support more successful projects for years to come. We are closing in on a principle-driven approach that drives real, lasting success, and capital project system renewal is at the center of that approach.

With capital project system renewal, you’re not just replacing one gear with another. You’re testing the engine, introducing a new oil, you’re trying new drivers and new roads. You’re working to overhaul the engine as a whole so that it runs faster, works more predictably, and can take you farther than you ever imagined.

The thing is that even within the same company, every project is different. Teams change, people change, business objectives change — that is the reality of capital project development. The systems you have in place must be stable and reliable, but also flexible and responsive.

The best way to achieve this is to have a principle-based project delivery system, so that your talented people can operate independently, confident in their understanding of the principles and their application in any number of varied situations.


The Predictability Principle

The most firmly established principle of Advanced Work Packaging is that it must always be construction-driven, and we have written at some length about other principles that drive this emerging approach to capital project management. Today I’m suggesting that predictability be added to our list of key principles that underpin an AWP project, which is to say that every decision made on an AWP project must be looked at through the lens of predictability.

Presently, the industry is relentlessly focused on efficiency. Most major thought leaders talk about tactical efficiency every time they talk about profitability and growth. But predictability is a far more powerful principle to apply to capital projects, particularly those using an AWP approach. Why?


1 | Predictability helps the industry improve its basis for estimating. If predictability is critical, you need solid estimates, and it makes sense to invest more in front-end definition.

2 | Predictability helps us gain clarity around our contractual relationships. If predictability is our goal, then everybody who is part of the project must be predictable, too. We raise the bar simply by establishing this important principle as central to the project execution strategy.

3 | Predictability nurtures and supports your most talented people. Predictable leaders are successful leaders, and organizations that are committed to predictability in projects help their most valuable team players to gain success in their own careers.

There is no easy, one-size-fits-all fix for what’s wrong with capital projects today. A holistic, capital project system renewal is essential. A principle-based, Advanced Work Packaging approach is the answer.

Start today.

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