Why do construction projects fail? 3/3
Work As One: together but apart, separately but in sync, independently but with co-dependencies.
I’ve talked about 2 ways to make projects delay-proof: integrate people and process into a single efficient entity, and monitor in real time to catch delays before they happen. The theme of my third and final post in this series is ‘Constructive Cooperation’. (Pun intended.)
Cooperation vs Collaboration
Almost every customer I’ve worked with has said to me at one time or another that he wished his people would work together better. (‘Better’ meaning what? More efficiently and cost effectively? Of course, but also more harmoniously. Meaning, fewer miscommunications and mishaps and fewer headaches for already-overworked managers.) Since I was there as a software solutions provider, software became the natural starting point i.e. finding out what
software they were using to collaborate and communicate.
Interestingly, no two were alike. Some had the latest collaboration tools, some had ERP, some (most) relied on Excel and Msproject and email. But what struck me was how little value they seemed to be getting out of their software – it was almost like it made no dent in the age-old basic challenges. They all still had the same pain point – how to work together?
On the face of it, getting people to work together in the 21st century should be a breeze – we have mobile phones, email, internet, digitized everything. So why is this still such a challenge? I believe it is because projects are, at the core, intensely human. The construction industry to an outsider looks impersonal, all gleaming metal and glass and concrete but underneath it is surprisingly similar to a living organism. At the very least, it is people-driven and people dependent.
And that presents a dilemma – if you get an IT-driven system will you have to hire more people to manage that system? Does technology make you more efficient…or less?
Let’s break it down – you have a client in his office, you have a planning team sitting in their office, usually the organisation’s head office, you have a project director who may or may not be at the same location, and you have a site team which could be anywhere. Making sure that everybody knows what they are supposed to be doing is one big challenge in itself. Making sure there is a seamless flow of information and nothing falls between the cracks is another.
The goal should always be to make people more efficient at what they do. And this means the systems they work with have to get smarter. A ‘dumb’ system can add work, not reduce it, and make people even more frustrated or overworked than they already might be. That frustration if not addressed leads to not only technical issues but conflict, misunderstanding, distrust. Relationships sour and break.
And that brings us to the paradox of needing a non-human system to make us better at being human i.e. working smoothly together with other people.
But if you ask me that’s one of the best things about IT – it helps us work better in our own lives. The better an IT system is the more closely it mimics human behaviour.
To sum up, I have always believed that technology is a means to an end and not the end itself. I started building my products, as a way to help first engineers and then engineering organisations work more efficiently. That goal has not changed.
Ultimately, a successful project is one where the people in it have been empowered to work better as thinking creative living beings, not automatons but one team, with one goal.