Capital project excellence (part 5):Why project and team organizational effectiveness now depends critically on three attributes: agility, data, and scale

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In this seven-part series of blogs, Daryl Walcroft discusses PwC’s “Project Excellence System” – beginning by providing an overview of the framework as whole, and then drilling down into each of its six capabilities in turn. With US capital projects poised to experience a renewed infusion of spending, Daryl says the framework can play a crucial role in keeping projects on track, and help ensure they deliver successful outcomes.

The first step toward success in any business is to set the strategy. To a large extent, that’s the easy part: much more difficult is making it happen. To do this, you need to create an organization that is fit for purpose to execute the strategy and turn it into reality – and is versatile enough to stay fit for purpose as the business evolves through its lifecycle, and conditions change.

While all of this applies in every type of business, it’s especially relevant for a major project – be it a power plant, an airport, or an IT or financial transformation. So while this blog on Project and Team Organizational Effectiveness is the fifth in my series on PwC’s Project Excellence System, you could argue that it’s actually the cornerstone of the whole edifice.

To date in this series I’ve looked at Project Excellence System’s objectives, capabilities and benefits; examined the advantages of integrated project technology; described why project controls and governance must evolve for a data-rich world; and highlighted how performance insight and reporting tools and methodologies are evolving in response to the expanding volumes of data for decision-making on projects. In this fifth blog in the series, I'm turning the spotlight on how project leaders can ensure the effectiveness of the organization that underpins all of these other elements.

A common theme throughout this series is the Project Excellence System’s organic and evolving nature, enabling it to reflect improvements in systems, analytics, construction methods and emerging technologies – and especially the massive growth in the volumes of data available to support decisions. The vital importance of collecting and using this data in the right ways is rapidly turning capabilities around analytics, data and AI into vital enablers for the success of any project.

So, against that background, what do we mean by ‘project and team organization’? Part of the challenge with this capability is its sheer breadth – encompassing governance, oversight, execution and support roles and responsibilities for each level across the lifecycle of a project, supported by clearly defined capabilities and skill requirements. It also includes design and sizing of the project management organization to meet current and anticipated needs. Add in performance management criteria and skills development, and it is clear why this segment of the Project Excellence System is so pivotal to the functioning of the whole framework.

It’s equally clear that the effort to drive organizational effectiveness must be shared and sustained at every level, all the way from the CEO and CFO to the front-line engineer. And also that this isn’t just a matter of setting up an organizational structure and letting it run, but of preparing the entire enterprise to operate, think and evolve in a way that’s laser-focused on delivering Project Excellence. In my view, this means reframing organizational and team effectiveness in a more holistic way by applying three lenses.

The first is agility and versatility, blurring the boundaries between the formerly distinct worlds of business and projects. At root Project Excellence is about optimizing the kinetic flows of data and talent. So rather than structuring the project organization as a set of fixed, rigid elements, what’s needed is an ability to flex, change and dial these flows up and down through the different phases of the project lifecycle. This imperative mirrors PwC's cross-industry research into enterprise agility, which shows that the winners are those companies that can sense change and then respond accordingly.

The second lens – a common thread throughout this series of blogs on Project Excellence – is data and technology. The roles and responsibilities needed on a major project have changed dramatically in recent years, with a much greater requirement for skills in areas like technology and data analysis, and fewer routine manual roles. Similarly, the data revolution means many of the long-established structures for providing governance through traditional assurance, internal audit, and leadership models have passed their use-by date. Again, these same shifts are reflected more widely across all businesses, as shown by PwC’s thought leadership on capability-driven skills management.    

The third lens is scale. Unlike in the old days, this doesn’t just mean scaling up for peaks in the project lifecycle. It also means using technology and smart talent strategies to help scale down the team size to the optimal level – which will probably be a good deal smaller and leaner than a few years ago. This right-sizing is aided by using artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to support and improve decision-making, removing the need for big teams carrying out manual analysis. And having a smaller, more nimble core team feeds back into greater agility and versatility – helping to create a virtuous circle of effectiveness and efficiency.

So, that’s the goal – but how do you make it all happen? Two steps. First, start with the C-suite, and drive the approach to organizational effectiveness from top-down: senior-level buy-in and commitment are vital. Second, with the C-suite on board, mount a concerted effort to extend the same buy-in to all levels – so every engineer is not just focused on beavering way at the latest task, but is also keenly aware of the wider role and importance of every action as part of the project team’s overall effectiveness. If you can create an organization that delivers all this, then you’re well on the way to achieving Project Excellence.

In my next blog in this series, I elevate the focus to the project portfolio level, and take a look at how to deliver excellence in Capital Portfolio Management and Governance.

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Daryl Walcroft

Principal, US Capital Projects & Infrastructure Leader, PwC US

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