Notes about slippages in institute infrastructure building project

Analysis of past projects data by various leading research organisations reveal that in general less than 35% projects are able to meet their stated goals [1 - 5]. For instance, data from Standish CHAOS reports (see table below) indicated that less than 30% projects are delivered with required features, on time and on budget. Apparently, failures and underperformance is quite common in large projects. 

The project for developing a new campus of my university was no different -- it also faced significant challenges. Extremely slow progress of this project, among other repercussions, lead MHRD to bring a change in leadership at the university last year.

After the leadership change several necessary steps were taken by us so as to bring the project on track and streamline how things were managed in the project. Let me also mention that the new leadership inherited (in May 2015) a very very difficult scenario to handle. Following are only few of the highlights of our situation back then:
  • Project was already running about 2 years behind the original schedule mandated by MHRD.
  • Contracts with various agencies were entered without much thought about execution:
    • An architect firm is directly contracted to us. This firm has further subcontractors who would carry out design of various services etc. such as electrical, STP, HVAC, horticulture etc. On top of this, the architect firm along with its sub-consultants were known to be non-performers (also see this). 
    • CPWD is our Project Management Consultants (PMC); they are not bound by any contract to us, rather they are working with us via an MoU. This means that certain things are difficult to enforce.
    • The contractors who will be implementing the project are contracted to the PMC agency.
    • The PMC and contractors have no direct control or influence over the architect firm.
    • Tender for only civil construction work had been awarded. Services (STP, WTP, data network etc.) were not included in scope of work for the contractor. This meant that a lot of work was not even conceptualised!
    • Key buildings were missing or under sized in the awarded work. Whereas some buildings have been way oversized.
  • The client (i.e. us) were interfacing with multiple agencies without having access to any expertise in the domain of any of them. All we had at our disposal to rely on were: one mid-career civil engineer and a small Building and Works Committee (BWC). The lone engineer would also handle the issues of our transit campus. The BWC had competent members, but they would meet only perhaps once in 3-4 months.
  • Except a partial boundary wall there was no structure visible above the ground at project site.
In my view the reasons why we found ourself in the such difficult situation were not totally out of sync with what has been observed in numerous other projects [1 - 5]. However, for us major causes of the delay were:
  • In our beginning, we did not have personnel and expertise for effectively implementing institute's strategy (was there any?!). Unfortunately, the then leadership did not put focus on strategically relevant initiatives for the institute. (As per PMI report [3] about 45% projects fail due to this scenario.)
  • Almost no communication among stakeholders to monitor the project. (This is a major cause for failure in about 30% of projects as per [3]). Each party was pointing fingers at the other or just passing the buck for the delays that had happened in the project.
  • Users' requirements were not properly evaluated before passing to the architects. Furthermore, in many cases requirements were changed without involving the users. Also, architect's deliverables were not reviewed adequately by all concerned. This had lead to lots of rework for us later. (As per [3], this scenario accounts for about 38% failed projects).

In June 2015, after a change in leadership at the institute, we have been able to arrest the slippages and instil the sense of urgency in everyone involved in the project to deliver. I will highlight few important changes that were put in place:

  • A core project monitoring group (PMG) was setup by us to monitor the progress of work. It helped us in effective assessment and speedy resolution of impending issues. PMG comprised of key personnel from institute leadership, end users, domain experts and representatives of the architect, CPWD (our PMC) and the contractor.
  • Bi-weekly meetings of PMG were held on-site to review progress and resolve issues. One key advantage of this was that we were able to cut down on formal communication time on various issues. This also brought interfacing parties on one table for resolving issues. Prior to this, parties would simply write a letter/email and wash their hands off the issue. This type of ping-pong among architects-CPWD-contractor was hurting the project most. PMG meetings fixed this issue.
  • As clients we did not have expertise in different areas related to mega construction projects of this nature. As such we had difficulty in assessing and resolving issues by our own. To fill the gap we engaged some professionals in respective areas to assist us. This has added tremendous value to the project.
  • We have now created a small team of domain experts to oversee the construction on a day to day basis from our side. Idea is to assess and resolve the issues quicker and have a closer monitoring of work.
  • We also make it a point to read out the "penalty clauses" to all those who were causing the delays at various stages.

Though we are still not fully there yet, as a result of all these steps we have been able to bring the project to some speed and show visible progress on ground. Within 12 months of initiating the above steps, we were able to achieve average financial burn rate of above Rs. 12 Cr/month. We have completed 100% of the structural work for all our planned buildings for current phase, and have completed more that 40% of brick work in those buildings. Tendering of all services which were not taken up earlier has also been done.

However, we need to accelerate further in order to meet out schedule of delivery. Some more things which we are looking to introduce/emphasise are:

  • Sensitise our core project team about project management best practices. Unfortunately, as of today we do not have even a single (except this author who held a PMP credential in past) person associated with the project who has had a formal training/certification such as PMI PMP
  • Introduce some IT tools for better tracking of tasks and issues.
In a different post I will talk about my experiences on this project about tasks specific performance issues, their causes and remedies.

  1. Project Management Institute: Pulse of the Profession 2015: Capturing the Value of Project Management 2015 (pdf).
  2. The Standish Group Report CHAOS 2014 (pdf).
  3. Project Management Institute: Pulse of the Profession 2015: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PERFORMANCE 2014 (pdf)
  4. KPMG Project Management Survey 2013 (pdf)
  5. Boosting Business Performance through Programme and Project Management:
    A first global survey on the current state of project management maturity in organisations across the world. PricewaterhouseCoopers (pdf)


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