It’s a fact that many — if not most — major projects are doomed to fail, in some way; and they fail at the beginning — not at the end.
According to the Project Management Institute’s 2014 ‘Pulse of the Profession’ research, very few organisations (9 per cent) rate themselves as excellent on successfully executing initiatives to deliver strategic results. Only 56 per cent of strategic initiatives meet their original goals and business intent — a performance that results in organisations losing $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programmes.
High-performing organisations successfully complete 89 per cent of their projects, while low performers complete only 36 per cent successfully. This difference in success results in high-performing organisations wasting nearly 12 times less than low performers.
Projects and programmes that are aligned to an organisation’s strategy are completed successfully more often than projects that are misaligned (48 per cent versus 71 per cent).
PMI’s earlier research reported that aligning projects with strategic objectives has the greatest potential to add value to an organisation. But on average organisations report that three of five projects are not aligned to strategy.
Organizations that are highly agile, nimble and able to respond quickly to changing market dynamics complete more of their strategic initiatives successfully than slower, less agile organisations (69 per cent versus 45 per cent). But only 15 per cent of organisations report high organisational agility.
So, when it comes to the World Expo 2020 project, where does Dubai’s advantage lie?
Firstly, in the broader context in which the World Expo will take place — i.e., fitting alongside the UAE national agenda and alongside the vision of Dubai/UAE as a diversified, knowledge economy. Part of this aim is the development of local talent — and so the human element is a vital component and will project the qualities of Dubai and the UAE. The Expo also fits into the development of the Dubai World Central development, the world’s first ‘aero-tropolis’ — a new city built around a new, super-large airport.
So, is Dubai ready to face the biggest project management challenge so far? As the initial excitement of the bid success subsides, the hard reality of the challenge to deliver a world-class showcase event and experience rises, along with the need to deliver on the legacy opportunities.
Put simply, World Expo 2020 is a complex project and can benefit from the project management techniques to meet all its many objectives across all its various stakeholders.
What is a project? The defining characteristics are that a project has a defined lifecycle with predetermined stages — inception (feasibility, defining); doing (designing, developing, constructing); and closing (testing, commissioning, handing over). A project has a single point of responsibility for delivery, e.g., a project manager, and is unique in nature with a clear defined outcome and reason for existence, a deliverable to time, cost and quality, and has a team.
Critically, Dubai has a major advantage in two fundamentally important areas — one is the very clear leadership and ownership of the project; the other is the clear vision of Dubai and the role of the World Expo 2020 within this. These are especially important when you consider that projects generally fail because they are not clearly aligned to a purpose and are poorly communicated.
A project needs clear scope, deliverables and timescales and linked to a clear purpose — the vision and mission of the organisation, for example — and which needs to be clearly communicated.
In the case of a World Expo 2020, the purpose links all the many projects and brings them together. Leadership is a critical aspect for success and the clarity of direction is a vital element of the communications.
A major project is an ‘interruption’ and will be the catalyst for many new future initiatives, aligned with the overall vision and purpose of Dubai, which is clearly mapped out and strongly directed/led.
Projects don’t fail at the end, but at the beginning and mainly through a lack of a clear purpose. World Expo 2020 is in no danger of this and is in very good hands.
The writer is a Fellow of Manchester Business School.