What news are you using on your project?
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself” Mark Twain.
All too often we selectively choose the facts and information we like, then weave them into a story that suits us, one we want to believe. News and facts that don’t match our ideals and beliefs are discarded.
Over the last few months much has been made of the false news stories and statements that have proliferated on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. These ‘facts’ and ‘statements’ are taken as the truth, and hungrily consumed by those who want to believe them. In fact, recently we have been introduced to a new term - ‘alternative facts’!
Of course, there is nothing new about this and it has been happening through the centuries. We certainly don’t have to look too far into the history books. In fact, many of the wars and political purges in the past have been justified by misinformation. News is regularly distorted, or bent, to show a particular view. It’s also easy to ignore the news we don’t want to believe or hear – for many it’s as easy as changing the news channel, or buying another newspaper, or, in the case of Facebook and even website search engines you’ll be sent similar articles to the ones you read and liked, or be provided with web pages similar to the ones you regularly access. So, very quickly we can be surrounded by news stories and content we like and believe, to the detriment of other views which could provide counter arguments and a more rounded view of the World. But hey, who wants to hear things we don’t like, or that we disagree with, when we can selectively view the ‘good’ stories? After all, when we were kids we were allowed to believe in happy fantasies such as Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and other fairy tales where everyone lived happily ever after – except the bad guys!
Regrettably, on many construction projects the truth is hidden from view until the end when the project falls apart – completed late, with massive losses and often acrimony and blame between the contracting parties. Indeed, a few years back a construction company in West Australia that appeared to be performing well and had many years of successful growth and profits suddenly reported losses of $600 million. How was it possible for a company, in only a few months, to turn a profit into such a huge loss – especially when these losses were primarily the result of two projects that had been under construction for several years and were now reaching completion? These losses didn’t occur overnight – they occurred over several years.
In this day and age, when we have so many project management resources, how is it possible that the truth about a project’s performance can stay hidden from view until the end? Well, this can be for a number of reasons which includes:
- The answer provided is incorrect because the wrong information is used.
- The system is faulty, so the output is incorrect.
- The information is misinterpreted.
- The project team don’t have the knowledge and experience to operate the systems, or interpret the information correctly.
- Someone in the project team deliberately covers the problem.
- The problems are ignored by the team.
So let’s consider some of the reporting systems on our projects and see where they go wrong.
The Project Schedule
I’m sure we have all witnessed projects that have appeared to be tracking on schedule and then near the end things fell apart?
Project schedules are essential to any project and I would never attempt a project without one. Yet, even with the best schedule it’s possible to report the project as being on schedule even when it’s not. Many project managers have succeeded in manipulating schedules to show management and the client that they are on schedule (even when they aren’t) and will complete the project on time. However, in some cases even the project manager is caught unawares when the project is completed late.
There are many reasons for this which includes:
- The schedule isn’t constructed properly and has errors with the logic, links, durations or resources.
- The schedule may not have allowed sufficient time for finishing and commissioning the project.
- The schedule isn’t updated correctly and progress seems to be more advanced than it actually is.
- The project team analyses the progress on the percentage completeness, but isn’t looking at the progress measured against the critical path.
- Of course in some cases, the project team simply ignores what the schedule is telling them and hope that in the end things will turn out all right, and that miraculously the project will be completed on time.
- The team fudges the schedule to show that the project is on schedule even when it’s not.
- The team finds faults with the schedule and uses these as an excuse to ignore the fact that according to the schedule the project will be completed late.
Most projects produce a monthly cost report. Unfortunately these often aren’t correct which could be because:
- The data inputted into the cost report is incorrect.
- The cost report includes over-claims (income from work which hasn’t been done) or includes variation claims which haven’t been approved by the client and which may not be paid in full or maybe not at all.
- The costs included in the report aren’t correct and some costs have been forgotten and omitted.
- The information from the project cost report is ignored. Frequently the project team ignores the fact that the project is losing money and hopes that things will improve by the end of the project. Unfortunately unless positive action is taken things seldom improve and usually the losses become worse.
- The losses are deliberately hidden from management and the reports are manipulated to show a profit.
- The reasons for the losses are incorrectly explained and management are informed that the losses will be recovered at the end of the project. Unfortunately, they seldom do and frequently the losses increase.
A project can appear to be safe, but in fact a major accident could be waiting to happen. Just because a project hasn’t had a serious accident doesn’t mean that the project is safe. Sometimes projects survive by luck, which unfortunately seldom lasts until the end. Some projects ignore minor accidents and they aren’t reported – they are treated as being too much paperwork and trouble. It has been proven that many small incidents will ultimately lead to more serious incidents.
Even minor safety transgressions that aren’t dealt with can lead to more serious violations which ultimately leads to a serious accident. It’s essential to take corrective actions early to prevent a serious accident.
Frequently quality problems are ignored during construction. Either the project team doesn’t understand what good quality is, they don’t care, or they avoid looking for problems. When problems are detected we hear excuses, or that the problem will be fixed at the end, or that the client won’t notice. Let’s ignore the problem, or tell ourselves that it’s not as bad as some make it out to be!
No wonder some contractors are surprised at the end of the project when they take several months to complete snag lists (punch lists) consisting of thousands of items.
Quality systems should provide the checks to ensure that work is done correctly, and they should provide information of what faults have been detected. Importantly, the team should understand what the quality requirements are for the project and substandard work shouldn’t be tolerated.
You can have your own opinions but not your own facts. Good project systems are essential to monitor the health of your project. But these systems must be used and interpreted correctly.
We cannot choose what news we want to hear and which news we will turn off. We need to know when our project is going badly – even if we don’t want to know. Our managers need to be informed when there are problems – even if they don’t want to know. Knowing there is a problem it is equally important to understand the cause, and then to take the correct actions to rectify the problem. If the problem can’t be fixed – maybe the project will be late or it will lose money – then those that need to be informed must be told as soon as possible so that they can make alternative arrangements.
We cannot ignore bad news. We cannot ignore the news we don’t want to hear. But equally important is to check the source of your project news – is it reliable and is it backed by sound logic and facts.
Are you ignoring bad news on your project?
Are your sources of information reliable and are you interpreting them correctly?
'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' is another of Paul's useful books. These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website.
Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.
© 2017 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.