What a Project Management Disaster

On the news recently I was listening to an item about the ongoing Edinburgh Tram Project. It is, apparently, 2 years late and already over-budget by £200 million; three-quarters of the budget has been spent but only a quarter of the work has been completed. I had to wonder how the project managers feel about this – are they desperately trying to get the project back on track (pun intended) or is it simply so over budget and so late that now they are just trying to get it right. But, actually, I discovered that a substantial number of key staff have left the council-owned company overseeing the project and more are expected to leave.

I don’t know why those people have left the company but it re-confirms what I think about so many project disasters – if you take care of the people working on the project, communicate fully with them and listen to their concerns then a disaster is less likely to happen. The fact that staff are deserting this particular sinking ship is a clear indication that they are not happy and a de-motivated team will never be able to deliver a project successfully

There have been plenty of calls for the project to be scrapped, including from the deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council but equally vocal have been the calls to complete the project to avoid the waste of a predicted £750 million cost to scrap it.

Perhaps these people should take a longer term view and consider, for example, what happened with the £750 million Wembley Stadium project. Just as with the Edinburgh Trams, one of the main causes of missed deadlines and budget overspend with Wembley Stadium has been disputes over money with the contractors. But look at Wembley Stadium now – several years on and the late completion and overspend are (almost) forgotten.

Another element in these, and other major construction projects, seems to be a failure to manage expectations by setting a realistic timeframe. In fact, this isn’t just a problem with major construction projects but with probably all projects. Maybe it’s about time project managers learnt to be more realistic with their estimates and senior executives learnt to accept detailed estimates as accurate and not pressurise project managers into reducing estimates for whatever business or political reason.

Project managers can learn more about managing team members and external contractors; producing accurate estimates and managing expectations on one of the many project management courses available. Learning to deal with people sensitively and diplomatically could just prevent issues like those on the Wembley Stadium and Edinburgh Tram projects.