When I started my practice, Continuum Performance in 2010 it was, quite frankly, a self-serving enterprise – a passion that I had to help teams be their absolute best and to help individuals achieve exceptional outcomes as part of something larger than themselves.
The company was based on the premise that there are a number of performance “continua” that exist within capital project delivery that can be exploited to realise these lofty ambitions:
- Delivery performance continuum— Extends from the owner’s performance objectives for the project right through to the day-to-day work execution activities.
- Developmental performance continuum–Extends from conceptual design through design and construction and right up to commissioning and operational handover.
- Business performance continuum–Links owners’ realisation of their goals for return on capital investment with delivery organisations achieving their growth and profitability objectives.
So what have I experienced over the last 5 years of running a performance improvement business?
Not surprisingly, the main driver for performance improvement is almost always crisis. As a result, much of my work has been on “troubled” projects. Often this is good work – valuable work – but sadly, it is work that is all too plentiful. It is also work that is undertaken far too late in the continua mentioned above to realise the value potential that existed in each of these projects. In these situations I have watched the well-meaning, yet sometimes harmful, effects of traditional project controls thinking that is focused on “demonstrating progress” at all costs. It’s often accompanied by measurement and reporting at ever-greater frequency and in ever-greater detail. This embodiment of the often-quoted “that which gets measured gets done” (primarily attributed to Peter Drucker) does not take into account its corollary “if you measure the wrong thing, you do the wrong things.” The response is often to
- Push the capacity lever – add more people, get better people.
- Increase the number of work fronts – any work done is progress and the more work done, the greater the progress.
- Abandon strategic thought around serving the highest priorities – “all I want to see are assholes and elbows” was a quote from one client PM when it was suggested that the right number of people performing the right activities at the right time might best serve the project.
The result is an erosion in the efficiency of the working environment and the quality of the work product. Rarely is the result a realisation of business outcomes or the desired return on investment – for either client or delivery organisation.
Most importantly, I have seen that it doesn’t have to be this way. By getting the team to think differently about how they approached the business of project delivery we were able to dramatically improve performance – the same people, the same project and the same contractual environment. Delivery results improved through the simple acts of:
- Gaining strategic alignment on what’s important for the project and how to achieve it.
- Using the people doing the work to plan and control the daily activities to serve that strategy.
- Continuously improving the ability to execute those daily activities so the work conformed to the plan rather than being simply measured against it.
By refocusing the delivery approach around these three performance continua, projects can consistently meet, and routinely exceed, the project delivery expectations of client and contractor alike. Not only that but there is a fourth performance continuum – one that links all three and, when capitalised on, presents the opportunity for creating better business outcomes through project delivery performance. I firmly believe that if we think differently about how projects are designed and constructed it is possible to improve the profitability and top-line growth of project delivery organisations while responding to owners’ growing need for capital efficiency and outcome effectiveness.
Questions for consideration:
- How much focus does your team or organisation place on the delivery, developmental and business performance continua when shaping its approach to projects?
- Is your project delivery performance a competitive advantage or a necessary means to an end?
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please share them in the comments area below.