Question: Need for dynamic project risk assessments

Our company is engaged in 50 or more construction and landscaping projects at any point in time.

After the downturn in economy, we find that the clients have become much more fickle in their decision making, and our existing project management processes do not capture the risks of early termination or increased competition, etc till it is too late.

Is there a more dynamic method of capturing the early warning signs in projects?

4 Expert Insights

I would be interested in learning more about your organization:

1. Size of the 50+ construction and landscaping projects.
2. What are the pre/post downturn client issues you are facing?
3. What type of project management processes you currently use and how you collect data?
4. What market you work in?
5. What value added services you provide to support construction and landscaping?

In other words, depending on your starting point there may be many more dynamic methods for capturing the early warning signs in projects.  Tell me if you are interested in further discussion.

The issue you describe is one that is typical when an organization continues to operate on the basis of what worked in the past during times of significant change.  This is when they see decline and potentially significant damage to their business.  What I get from your introduction is your awareness of the need to change and that's the important first step to pulling out of your current situation.

The approach I have used often is to bring the leadership team together and employ 'break it thinking' (from the book "if It Ain't Broke ... Break It!".  The team identifies the realities of today in terms of market in general, customers (who they are and how they may have changed), your processes (how they need to be altered or what new ones do you need to 'fit' in today's world) and finally your product itself (how it needs to look, be sold, etc. to appeal to the buyer of today),

In taking such a full overview you will be able to design your business around today's realities and that will include the warning signs you asked about.  Rather than trying to fit yesterday's approach into a   different 'today', you will accomplish altering your entire approach to fit the realities of the world you're operating within.

The beauty of project management is having a defined deliverable and timeline, in contrast to typical day-to-day work activities that seem to be able to continue ad infinitum without any apparent need for accomplishing anything. Managing a portfolio of projects is not easy, but it is a high-value organizational capability.

The assessment and management of project risk is largely a function of the assumptions made in project planning. There is great value in identifying milestones along the entire project timeline and carefully monitoring progress against those milestones.  Circumstances always change as the project proceeds; the initial planning is almost never entirely accurate.  Being able to manage to those changing circumstances is key to keeping projects on track. Project team members must be encouraged to call out issues as they are recognized, rather than try to fix them without anybody knowing about it.

Your particular challenge of dealing with the fickle nature of clients is one that calls for attending to client relationship management. The ability to earn your clients' trust should be your highest priority. Establishing effective two-way communication with your clients, in an environment where they're willing to tell you what they're really thinking, is your best path to no surprises.

Service businesses are very different.  In general 3 areas of practice are critical to your success in addition to your service offering which I assume is top draw.  Add pricing/funding; employee management and customer management to your list of concerns. I suggest you take a look at the elements of each.

Pricing/terms:   To what degree do you use value pricing as a strategy-understanding your value propositions vs. competition and confirming that each value has been delivered as partial payments are being made. Which suggests that frequent milestones have benefit because they serve as a continuing reminder that you are delivering as promised and you obtain frequent feedback.

Employee management:  Employee satisfaction leads to loyalty and productivity.  High job turnover can cause extensive job dislocations, project delays,  customer doubts and communication gaps between you and the customer.  New faces raise questions.  How often do project managers meet with your customers? And how often during the course of any project do you conduct project reviews raising the questions  of both performance and human sensitivities.

Customer management: In addition to ensuring that you deliver greater results than customers are expecting, to what degree do you involve the customer during the course of your projects?  Viewing milestones; contributing to selecting materials, understanding project changes, etc.  so that there is a sense of ownership in the result.   And check back after completion to deal with even the slightest question or element of dissatisfaction.