Report for the Department for Communities and Local Government
This is a report for the Department for Communities and Local Government to recommend remediation measures for mistakes made on the FiReControl project. It focuses on leadership and planning with respect to project management, and provides recommendations for future projects. Project leadership and management are recommended for the Department to ensure there are adequate resourcing, motivated team, and project ownership, along with provision of a pathway to guide in the FiReControl project implementation. This way, the chances of project failure are significantly reduced.
Project management entails planning and organizing resources, protocols and procedures to accomplish particular objectives in a problem of interest (Vidal & Marle 2008). Ajmal, Helo & Kekale (2010) argues that a project is typically a temporary pursuit aimed at delivering a certain product or service to deliver beneficial change, for example, added value. By default, a project has a defined starting point and end, and is normally constrained in terms of time, deliverables or milestones, or funding. These constraints require to be addressed appropriately to increase the chances of successful project implementation. Project management is primarily challenged by addressing pre-conceived constraints to achieve the project goals and objectives (Gido & Clements 2014).
The FiRe control project was uninitiated in 2004 to streamline the fire response infrastructure technologically, and was scheduled to be completed by October 2009. The Department for Communities and Local Government contracted European Air and Defence Systems (EADS) was contracted to design, develop and deploy the IT system. However, the project was marred by a number of cost escalation and delays over its lifecycle (National Audit Office 2012). This report seeks to communicate two areas of project management – project leadership and project planning, and ultimately provide recommendations for future projects.
Initiated in 2004, the FiReControl project was aimed at establishing 9 purpose-built local control centres to replace the control rooms of 46 Fire and Rescue Services across England. The backbone of the project rested on using an IT system to technologically link the previous 46 control rooms as a means of bolstering efficiency and resiliency in the area of handling calls, mobilizing equipment and managing incidents. The project failed miserably and the Department for Communities and Local Government opted to terminate it after 7 years (December 2010) to cut increasing losses. Unfortunately, approximately £465 million had already been wasted at the time of termination with no delivery of the IT system. Additionally, 8 out of 9 new control centres remained costly to run and empty (National Audit Office 2012).
According to the National Audit Office (2011), the FiRe Control project failed from the start due to flaws that could be attributed to lack of support from essential personnel, mainly drawn from the local Fire and Rescue Services. In addition, the project was rushed, thus failing to adhere to proper procedures or plans. There were also ineffective balances and checks in the early phases, meaning the Department based its commitment on inaccurate estimates of the project’s costs and benefits as well as unrealistic delivery time schedule. The Department also agreed on an insufficient contract with the IT vendor, alongside under appreciating the underlying complexity, thus mismanaging the performance as well as the delivery timetable of the IT contractor. Necessary leadership was also not available to ensure the project was successful. Instead, the project team over-relied on poorly managed consultancy personnel and failed to address early issues with delivery.
In project management, leadership is more than mere project managers. Project leaders possess highly desirable collection leadership skills and technical capacity to drive projects towards optimal performance, and ultimately success (Schwalbe 2009). Turner (2014) argues that leadership skills optimize project performance. As such, it is important to have a collection of specific leadership skills and qualities as a platform for successful implementation of a project. What are the desirable qualities for effective project leadership? This is a question that has gained increased momentum in the project management arena. Based on a study by Soderholm (2008), the following are the intrinsic characteristics of effective project leadership:
- Capacity to instigate a collective vision: effective project leadership often possesses an overall vision of the intended goal and the capacity to communicate it in an articulate way. This implies that leadership requires a visionary approach. Visionaries succeed in change management and drawing new boundaries to ensure that set project goals and objectives are adequately addressed. A leader must have the capability to lift teams and members up by giving the vision and driving the spirit of change. A collective vision driven by strong leadership promotes the feeling of truly owning a stake in a given project by empowering people to be part of the cause throughout the project lifecycle.
Competent leadership inspires, encourages and models the stakeholder community to work as a team. Consequently, there is strong collaboration across team members, which drives a project towards success.
- Good communication capability: leadership must be able to communicate with people spread across all hierarchical levels. Clear communication is necessary to ensure that project teams understand the project goals and objectives as well as their responsibilities towards achieving them. In addition, stakeholders must be given feedback about progress to know what is expected of them, for example, senior management may be required to provide more funding. Effective communication forms the platform for successful negotiation and persuasion which helps establish a strong link between all stakeholders.
In project management, strong leadership promotes strategic and tactical awareness, thus bolstering the strategic significance of a specific project across stakeholders (Meredith & Mantel 2011). This facilitates creation of a project that considers all internal and external impacts, thus building a solid platform for undertaking all activities while avoiding potential risks.
Leadership is critical to successful project implementation because team members listen and rely on the person(s) at the top-most level of the project’s organizational structure (Heagney 2012). Basically, leadership is analogous to change sponsorship as it forms the body that makes people believe and work towards change. Senior leaders provide credibility and authority required for change, whether it involves new systems, processes, organization structures or job roles. Blichfeldt & Eskerod (2008) argues that senior management presence demonstrates its commitment as well as that of their organizations. As a result, the degree of resistance is reduced, and the progress of the project is bolstered.
Visible, committed and active top leadership sponsorship is one of the most critical contributing factors to project success (Reiss 2013). Sponsorship plays an integral role in ensuring that there are required personnel, funds and equipment to support a project throughout its project lifecycle. Senior management support is the most critical success factor for project implementation (Hwang & Tan 2012).
Project planning entails creation of an approved schedule to guide in execution and control with regard to cost and time scheduling, risk mitigation and quality control. It also defines the communication plan to convey all ideas and progress – true organizational nature, issues that need to be resolved, and accomplishments at different stages. Planning provides a way of organizing actions to fulfill the project goal (Turner 2014).
Project planning primarily documents a summary of planning decisions and assumptions and approved scope (Heagney 2012). It plays a key role in defining the approach and control measures that may be used to ensure that the intended project goal is delivered (Phillips 2009). Typically, project planning answers the following four basic questions with respect to the project at hand: why – the value proposition to be addressed or why the project should be sponsored; what – the work or activities to be performed and the major milestones and/or deliverables; who – the people to be involved in the project and their responsibilities; and when – the project time schedule to reach particular meaning points (Vidal & Marle 2008).
Phillips (2009) argues that a project plan basically derives from industry standards, for example, PRINCE2 and PMBOK, and must describe the overall steps in execution and control. As a best practice, formal agreement across relevant stakeholders should be pursued prior to approval of a project plan. In addition, approval should be sought in the early phases of a project and appropriate control measures applied to correct any deviations from the plan (Whitty & Maylor 2009).
Compromising project planning attracts disasters. The initiation stage is critical to project success since it establishes the core foundation of a project, and planning should be the first consideration in the phase (Whitty & Maylor 2009). Failure to plan can damage stakeholder engagement, benefits and scheduling (Schwalbe 2009). After all, planning provides the path to be followed towards meeting defined goals and objectives. Gido & Clements (2014) argues that the main factors behind project failure include: poor stakeholder engagement, lack of proper communication, and poor definition of roles and responsibilities. Therefore, these factors should be considered in the initiation and planning phases of any project.
It is evident that, fundamentally, projects are constrained by scope, resourcing – funding and human resources, time and quality, which need to be properly managed to achieve the defined goal.
Strong leadership plays a key role in overcoming the project constraints as well as in supporting change management through direct communication and commitment to the specific cause. Basically, leadership entails provision of necessary resources and actual direction towards achieving project goals and objectives.
On the other hand, project planning identifies prevailing constraints to provide proper remediation. With project planning, the clarity of project goals and objectives, and roles and responsibilities is greatly improved, and stakeholders are more likely to perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.
For example, the Department for Communities and Local Government failed to offer the appropriate leadership and make the FiReControl project successful. Over relying on insufficiently managed consultants led to failure in addressing early problems.
The following things are needed to ensure that top leadership help drive successful project implementation:
- The top leadership needs to clearly understand its role in implementing the project. Senior management forms a key body in project implementation by forming the backbone for engaging all stakeholders in the development process. This entails concrete readiness, capacity and willingness to implement a project.
- Leadership must sell a project to the stakeholders and the wider organization. This helps create a sense of ownership across the organization, thus overcoming resistance issues. Effective feedback platform is important for channeling concerns stakeholders may have as well as taking relevant steps to overcome issues that may arise.
- Leadership should provide necessary resources (funding and human resources) to sustain the project. The FiReControl was affecting all the 26 fire control centres, thus it required large-scale investment in terms of time and funds to boost long-term success.
- Plan realistically to avoid inefficiencies and disruptions to the actual project plan. This calls for seeking agreement across all stakeholders to identify potential project risks.
- Communicate effectively with stakeholders and motivate project team members to undertake the project. The FiReControl project experienced flaws because essential stakeholders could not be reached and involved, for example, the local Fire and Rescue Services.
- Support measures to deal with existing and potential difficulties – organizational change, disorientation of people, low employee morale, and time and cost overruns.
- Consider strategic consequences of implementing a project considering the size of modules that need to be installed to meet the needs of the overall organization.
It is apparent that the FiReControl project was not properly planned right from the initial stages. Without proper planning, the project had minimal chances of success as there were unrealistic cost estimates and its scope was not well defined. In fact, the project was terminated to avoid additional money wastages. The future of the project was not ascertained, thus complexities in the underlying IT solutions could not be identified upfront. Proper planning could play a significant role in driving the FiReControl project towards successful implementation. As the single unifying factor in complex projects such as the FiReControl, project planning draws the attention of all stakeholders. In the FiReControl project, planning could have enabled all stakeholders to work towards achieving the same goal. Project planning helps make decisions to influence the future, that is, the tasks that need to be performed, how they will be executed – the sequence and approaches, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to each stakeholder.
Project leadership and management are recommended to ensure that required resources are available, team members remain motivated, and project ownership is upheld and that there is a pathway guiding the FiReControl project implementation. In addition, planning provides a platform for ongoing communication on project progress alongside issues that need to be addressed. This way, the chances of project failure will be significantly reduced.
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