In 2014, the Standish Group study on the rates of success and failure of software development projects indicated that globally, the success rate is only 16%, whereas 52% failed to meet at least one of the objectives of the famous QCD triangle (Quality, Cost, Delivery), and that in the end 31% of projects were stopped. Taking into consideration all types of projects, the success percentage is still only about 30%.
There are many reasons that explain these dismal statistics. And when we talk to Programme Directors or Business Unit Directors, it is interesting to see to what extent the offer phase is no longer even a distant memory. Does this mean that all obstacles and difficulties happen in the project phase? Without doubt. Do their causes arise in the project phase? This is true in part, but the offer phase cannot be ignored. This is also made clear if we go into further detail in the study cited above. In the Top 10 reasons analysing 83% of projects halted or in difficulty, we see there are 5 reasons that can be attributed to the offer phase… thus 50% of all reasons. In other words, a dimension is missing that would demonstrate the real strategic goals of projects and thus offers: sometimes a company that wishes to conquer a new market will accept quasi-nil margins.
It is also noteworthy that project management consultancy firms are, for the most part, called on at the start of a project or during its execution to restructure, improve, train, change methods or tools, perform an audit and implement action plans. Here then, we are dealing with the impacts. But, as with good risk management, it is important to attack the causes by reducing their probability of occurrence. Luckily, a number of companies have taken this point on board, and we are supporting them along the performance path.
If we use the terms of the Project Management Institute (PMI) that defines the five process groups related to the lifecycle of a project, the Initiation and Planning phases are in reality in part found in the offer phase. Indeed, the latter is already at the beginning of the project phase where schedules, resources, costs and scopes are estimated, defined and validated to establish a basis for comparison to establish the goals and assess the success, or failure, of a project.
It is thus important and necessary that companies are aware that a significant part of improvements possible for project performance lies upstream. Project planning, in a global and non-timetable sense, is the phase where the company must determine how to invest to ensure that goals are achieved. Thus, and as experience shows, the better and more solid this basis, the better the chances of the project being a success. It is therefore essential for companies that the personnel responsible for offers are true project managers. Or at the very least that they are supported in such a way that they do not forget to deal with the causes of future failures such as cost estimates, scheduling estimates, incomplete or unprocessed specifications and inconsistencies in scheduling, resources and costs. Unfortunately, this is not yet generally the case. We simply need to look at the considerable work that project teams must perform to establish a new “realistic” foundation once the offer has been awarded.
We cannot of course make any sweeping generalisations, but we can perceive a trend, and not all is due to the offer phase; far from it. So in order to at least improve the statistics, let’s get it right the first time.