Project Management Institute

Merits of Planning


This article is based on material in the white paper “Plan Has Merit—It Costs: A Project Manager Analyzes the Construction of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh,” presented by Crispin “Kik” Piney, PMP, at PMI Global Congress 2005—EMEA held in Edinburgh, Scotland.

by Marcia Jedd

There are myriad lessons to be learned from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland, perhaps both the simplest and the most telling being the importance of quality project management practices from the start. While the result was a beautiful and useful building, the project to create it was executed dismally—it ran more than 10 times over the original budget estimate and five years behind schedule.

“The failures stem from one basic principle: the more inspiring the final goal and challenging the deadlines, the more key stakeholders are tempted to compromise on best principles of planning, management and control,” says Crispin “Kik” Piney, PMP, principal with, a project management consultancy based near Nice, France. “For this reason, in such situations, the safeguards for ensuring the application of best practices have to be correspondingly strengthened.”

Government projects—such as the Scottish Parliament Building— can get out of hand quickly without clear lines of authority.

A window seat in an MSP office at the new Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh


Mr. Piney, a British national, took an interest in the Scottish Parliament Building project and analyzed the effort post mortem. He drew on a few significant published accounts of the project, including Lord Peter Fraser of Carmyllie “The Holyrood Inquiry” (2004), which was prepared following a request by the Scottish government. Lord Fraser was made a life peer in 1989 when he was appointed Lord of Carmyllie Advocate for Scottland.

executive summary

Plan the project management before planning the project.

Define the roles and responsibilities for project control.

Designate, appoint or recruit the project executives so that lines of personal accountability are clear and individuals are empowered accordingly.

Train all key stakeholders in the concepts of effective program governance.

The structure, built to suggest upturned boats lying on the shores of Scotland, holds emotional significance for the public, so the success of the project was politically critical. Mr. Piney says the seeds of building Scotland's first modern-day parliament were cast in 1995 concurrent with the thrust to give the country decentralized power. By 1997, the Labour Party rose to power via Tony Blair's election to Prime Minister, defeating the incumbent Conservative Party and changing the political landscape. “Scotland would have its own parliament, rather than just a U.K. parliament,” Mr. Piney says. “But it was more than just a building, because a lot of emotion, politics and history were wrapped up in the momentum to build it.”

Seven Realms of Control

Crispin “Kik” Piney devised a Program Governance Model mapped from his analysis of the government-generated reports on the project. The model shows elements the project should have incorporated:

1 Stakeholder: Client, supplier, architect and culture management are a few of the elements required. Client control was nearly nonexistent.

2 Oversight: Authority, responsibility, accountability and external review are essential to oversight. Most of the oversight functions weren't running properly, if at all, in the project.

3 Execution: Cost, asset, action, risk and time control all are essential. Cost and time control went wildly astray in the project. Risk management never went further than identifying and quantifying some risks, without acting on any of the findings.

4 Communications: Control of documents and information quality are pillars of communications control. The project was rife with accidental and deliberate miscommunication and lack of document control.

5 Scope: Vision control, stakeholder analysis, scope definition and quality control are all critical. Vision was the run-away train that engulfed the rest of the scope controls.

6 Planning: Priority setting, resource assignment, risk management and baselining are necessary. Unrealistic timelines and lack of oversight controlled to poor planning efforts of monumental proportion.

7 Integration: life cycle management and change management. The project team never recognized the need for defining the life cycle of the project, baselining or other pro-active risk controls. No formal change management process was applied, leading to a domino effect to all contractors.

Dozens of people, including the Edinburgh City Council and Secretary of State for Scotland, were involved in overseeing the project; however, Mr. Piney says it was at-risk from the start due to lack of control and authority over project scope. “The major difficulty comes from the fact that everyone was so keen to get there, but no one had actually planned how to do it,” Mr. Piney says.

Within a couple months after the 1997 general election, parliamentary figures and government agencies pressed ahead for a fast-tracked project with an expectation for the building's completion by mid-1999. Donald Dewar, former Secretary of State for Scotland, was the driving force. Under his leadership, the initial site of the Old Royal High School in Edinburgh was judged too restrictive in terms of space and accessibility, and the site adjacent to the Queensberry House, known as the Holyrood site, soon was selected from a short list.

Mr. Piney says the project then evolved from an extensive renovation of the school building at a £24.5 million estimated cost to £34 million for a full-blown design and construction of a new building. Clearing of the Holyrood site and construction began in mid-1999, around the time project proponents originally had estimated the building would be ready for use. “The project kept going through budget reviews in parliament and each time, it went higher,” he says. “In April 2000, parliament agreed to cap costs at £195 million, and in June 2001, members of Scottish Parliament voted to lift this cap.”

The project ultimately cost £431 million, with the Scottish Parliament Building finally opening its doors to parliament in September 2004. Mr. Piney notes the project was riddled with controversy such as choice of site, architect, timing issues and escalating costs from unrealistic estimates. “For starters, they selected renowned architect Enric Miralles of Spain, who had no experience working in Scotland or with Scottish contractors,” he says, noting a joint venture between a Scottish architecture firm and Miralles was formed.

Concurrent with large building projects, a construction management firm was hired, but in this case, Mr. Piney says the firm merely cut contracts without responsibility of management control. “They weren't managing and held no overall responsibility for the total deliverable,” he says. “The firm was appointed and set to work before the building was fully designed.”

Mr. Piney's analysis showed the traditional phases of activities standard to the construction industry ran together in a tangled mess. Various activities of planning the design were happening during the pre-construction phase—and even the actual construction phase—leading to redesign and scheduling errors.


The garden lobby at the Scottish Parliament Complex, Edinburgh


Constant Change

Sam MacKenzie, partner with Davis Langdon cost consultants in Scotland, says Bovis, the appointed construction management firm, had problems obtaining the design information it needed from the architecture joint venture, and with keeping up with ongoing design changes. “The politicians and client body knew what they wanted, but they kept changing the brief, so the design team and the construction management company had to respond to those changes,” he says. The size of the building changed many times throughout the course of the project, contributing to a 47 percent increase in area of the building to 31,000 square meters.

In retrospect, Mr. MacKenzie says Bovis shouldn't have commenced construction until the brief was more fixed, likely adding at least a year to the project. Yet overall from the cost perspective, he calls it a reasonable project. “There wasn't much cost added to the project because of disruptions or lack of efficiency on site. It was an efficient project once the contractors were working on it with reasonable pricing levels for the specification.”

Both Mr. MacKenzie and Lord Fraser say actual project costs were not made immediately available by civil servants and this contributed to miscommunications and delays. Notably, Lord Fraser says one civil servant hid Davis Lang-don's estimates from the rest of her colleagues. “The fundamental problem was putting a person in charge who wasn't a good researcher and who had never handled a building contract,” Lord Fraser says. “She basically said, ‘My budget is £55 million, and you will build it at that.’ She never said to the political powers that be, ‘I‘m sorry they can't build it for that.’” He notes professional fees and value-added taxes were among the costs stripped out by the civil servants in presenting figures to parliament and other project decision-makers.

As for project management, a revolving door of project managers and project directors came and went during the course of the multi-year project. “The basic problem was there was nobody who could take any control actions on the project. No single person had authority,” Mr. Piney says, noting reports that suggest the outside project managers didn't have job descriptions. “The project manager's role seemed to be reporting on the current schedule and giving new estimates on the amount of overruns. It was more of a reporter and forecaster role rather than controller.”

The project wasn't without drama. Both Mr. Miralles, its famed architect, and Mr. Dewar, a key figure in the project and ultimately the client, died in 2000 without seeing the fruits of their labors. “No attention was made to the project management side,” Lord Fraser says. “Ordinarily when you get a big project, the one question you ask is, ‘Who is the client?' The original client was Donald Dewar, then Secretary of State of Scotland, which changed to the Scottish parliament corporate body.” He says the combination of the shift in authority, changing roles and the mishandling of cost information by civil servants, albeit accurately calculated and forecasted by the Landgon Davis firm, all contributed to a poorly run project. “The wool was pulled over the new client's eyes,” he says.




Crispin “Kik” Piney, PMP,
Nice, France

No Action

The lack of cohesive planning of the Scottish Parliament Building project broke a multitude of project management rules. The dearth of defined roles and responsibilities around project control could have been remedied by periodic audits from a competent external agency, Mr. Piney says. “An agency could assign responsibilities at the project control level to ensure that each of the findings and recommendations were acted and reported on.” He recommends discussion, definition and publishing the role of the project manager, and defining all corresponding relationships with project executives. “In conjunction, agree on mechanisms for open and transparent communication and escalation channels.”

Mr. Piney adds that training was absent from the project. “A one-day training session on program governance would have avoided some of the project errors,” he says. In fact, project management insight and good business sense only showed up in theory in the project. Of the formal reports made by the Auditor General of Scotland, Mr. Piney lauds the agency's insight. “At the management and control level, what impressed me most was the detail, structure, understanding and good sense that was shown in the analyses carried out under the aegis of the Auditor General of Scotland,” he says. Unfortunately, the project team didn't act upon the recommendations or treat the identified shortcomings.

In his address to the PMI European Congress in Edinburgh this year, Tom McCabe, Scotland's Minister for Finance and Public Sector Reform, referred to the Scottish Parliament Building, and commented on the lessons learned in the planning and implementation of the project. Mr. McCabe suggested it spurred the country to focus on improving project delivery in the public sector. “We want to see continuous improvement and more opportunities to share best practice,” he said. “In this way we can generate substantial benefits for all our citizens.”

For the most part, Lord Fraser characterizes the building as an architectural success, such as the wondrous Chamber of the parliament building, which he calls “an astonishing bit of construction and engineering.” But as he concludes, “There remains no excuse for not getting it right from the project perspective.”

Marcia Jedd is a Minneapolis, Minn., USA-based supply chain and business writer.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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