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Procurement Perspectives: Public expectations on projects need to be properly managed

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Public expectations on projects need to be properly managed

Quite often in government contracting, public expectations with respect to a project must be properly managed.

As we know, all users and managers have expectations for a project. Over time, these expectations change, leading to the risk of a phenomenon known as “scope creep.”

The term describes the unexpected growth of user expectations and business requirements in relation to a capital acquisition as the project progresses.

Unfortunately, only rarely can the schedule and budget be modified at the same time to meet these rising expectations.

A similar problem is caused by “future creep,” which is the uncontrolled addition of technical features to a system under development without regard to schedule and budget. Each unplanned feature, however impressive, adds time and costs to the overall schedule.

In some cases, these additional costs may offer sufficient benefit to be justified, but they must be properly provided for, and the cost and timing implications of change need to be identified before a decision is made to implement them.

I have always said effective communication is critical to proper management of expectations. Like many aspects of business planning, excessive use of jargon does little to assist in getting the job done. There are, however, certain commonsense principles that may be identified to guide the project management process.

For example, setting goals should exactly describe what the project is to accomplish — using action words such as design, build, implement and the like would help. It should be limited to those essential elements of the project that communicate the purpose and the outcome expected.

My focus is to achieve a measurable result. Anything that cannot be measured cannot be managed. In the broader sense, the whole statement of the goal is no more than a measure for the project.

If the goal is accomplished, then the project is a success. However, it is not enough to consider only the “big picture.”

The project must be subdivided into defined stages, with short-term, interim goals, milestones or a similar interim assessment being built into the supervision of the project at each stage. The assessment criteria at these points should be as objective as possible.

It is advisable to avoid words that can be misinterpreted such as improve, increase, reduce and customer satisfaction.

Where this sort of language must be used, it is necessary to state how they will be measured. There must also be a common understanding of targets, performance measures, analytical techniques and the like.

It is critical that the extent of commitment to the project must be determined.

Obviously, those who propose the project will support it, but in any large organization it is essential to determine the extent of commitment.

The individuals who control the resources necessary to get the project done must also agree that it is important; similarly, those who will be impacted by the project should agree that it needs to be done. If not, then the project may degenerate into a political nightmare, especially if costs exceed original projections.

Then we should look at how realistic the overall project and the interim goals line up to what must be attainable.

This is not a synonym for taking only the easy, time-worn path. A realistic project may push the skills and knowledge of the people working on it but it should not break them.

However, a project is not realistic if it cannot be carried out using available technology and methods or the cost of carrying it out exceeds the capacity of available resources.

Risk as well as intended benefits must be identified and properly provided for. Risk may take many forms and must be reviewed every step of the project.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at swbauld@purchasingci.com.

Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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