The definition of insanity, as Albert Einstein once put it, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

In the world of project management, we have numerous frameworks for delivery and training organisations are constantly reinforcing the essential ‘soft skills’ a good project manager should have.

And yet despite these clear methodologies, most projects still fail. This sorry state of project management was recently highlighted at the Australian Institute of Project Management’s National Conference.

So, why do we keep following the same framework and expect a different result?

In our experience, there are important lessons to be learned – especially when it comes to major projects. These lessons can be summarised as follows:

Governance, governance, governance!

When major projects fail, it’s usually because the consortium or joint venture formed to deliver them were not adequately governed by a project management office (PMO).

The contracts between parties are often complex and for project managers lacking the necessary contract, communication and conflict resolution skills, maintaining order can be a challenge.

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While planning, scheduling and contract guidelines can be established, they are often ignored at the contractor's level. When this happens, it’s up to the PMO to intervene. So by underestimating the value of a PMO, project teams are setting themselves up to fail.

Respect the contract process

Over many years of providing delay claims advice on major projects, we've noticed an ongoing trend with contractors where they fail to follow the contract process in claim preparation and submission, often resulting in unnecessary delays.

A contract may clearly outline the required steps to take in preparing a claim, but most contractors fail to follow the contractual steps, instead reverting to a 'gentleman’s agreement' or ignoring them altogether.

Part of the problem is that most contract forms fail to penalise the contractor for ignoring procedure or providing project deliverables in the wrong format. If contractors don’t need to follow their client’s established protocols, how is the project supposed to succeed?

The competency of the project team itself comes into play here as well. Good project managers actually follow the requirements set out in the contract to avoid getting into disputes in the first place.

Learn from past mistakes

For a nerdy computer scientist such as myself, programming and artificial intelligence is an interesting topic. The idea that a large database of information with numerous parameters could help a machine "learn" is an exciting concept.

But AI and project databases are not a new thing. Lessons learned databases, project review logs and post-implementation review data is readily available to most organisations.

We either aren't reviewing the information enough or we have so much project team turnover that the knowledge transfer keeps getting lost.

A good project manager can harness the power of lessons learned as a new project commences. This and previous performance audits are an integral part of project initiation to enable the project to plan appropriately.

If we think about the use of AI, databases and audits, we should be minimising our project failure rates. But we're not. So why?

This year's AIPM conference highlighted that those who undertake project management research at tertiary institutions rarely review past project performance reporting and audits relying more on the research of others, who in turn, do not undertake reviews od audit data..

This means a database of lessons learned and knowledge from past projects are not reaching those new upcoming project managers who are being educated for the future.

There’s a clear knowledge gap in our industry, and I say it’s about time we close it.

By Matt Betros

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