Project termination

why the delay?

Victor Sohmen, Centre for Temporary Organisations & Projects (CENTOP), Umeå School of Business and Economics, Umeå, Sweden

Introduction

Today time has become a far more precious “commodity” than ever before. We can waste time only at the risk of tangible and intangible losses that are painfully real: opportunities, health, wealth, property, happiness, and in the extreme, our very survival. This paper takes time seriously, and brings it into central focus in dealing with the phenomena of modern projects and their timely termination in the vortex of real time.

By definition, projects are temporary organizations, whether they produce temporary or permanent offspring. For instance, a five-year, labor-intensive construction project of a suspension bridge across a major river between twin cities is meant to be a permanent product. On the other hand, a knowledge-intensive, three-month software project could result in a database program that is not expected to last more than a year before it becomes obsolete. The word temporary has a time dimension: etymologically, it is derived from the Latin adjective temporarius, meaning “lasting for a limited time”(Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary 2000). The project must be terminated.

Whatever the nature of projects, time and timing are key constructs in their management. Unfortunately, a large number of projects are unable to terminate on time. They cost a great amount to the project owners, and heavy opportunity costs to the client. Obviously, this is serious enough to deserve our focused attention. This paper therefore looks at the problems in completing a project on the original Target Termination Date (TTD). It also seeks to suggest remedies to achieve timely termination without jeopardizing other project requirements.

The Strategic Importance of Projects Today

Competitive organizations are turning their strategies into reality through innovative projects. Indeed, firms are increasingly adopting multifunctional project teams to accomplish resource-constrained tasks, solve problems, and improve efficiency (Curling 1998). This renders such firms more flexible: it makes them responsive to changing external environments, and enables them to unleash their innovativeness. In business and commerce, projects represent a substantial proportion of the productive efforts of enterprises in every industrial sector (Cooke-Davies 2001). Such a propensity to “projectize” the organization’s operations has even spilled over into the ambient society. Just as “organizing by projects” is fast becoming a working philosophy in firms large and small, “projectification” as an extension of this concept has percolated through the fabric of society (Lundin and Soderholm 1998a). Therefore, we can safely surmise that projects, projectization, organizing by projects, and projectification are related phenomena that are here to stay. Organizing by projects is thus not a mere fad, but is becoming increasingly important in translating organizational strategy into action, and in promoting competitive performance in a rapidly evolving marketplace (Cleland 1998).

Though projects are essentially fuelled by a structured flow of finances, they need not always be driven by the commercial motive. They may even have aesthetic and cultural impacts that last for centuries. An outstanding example is that of the illustrious Taj Mahal built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of his undying love for his deceased wife. This twenty-two-year-long project began in 1631, employing over 20,000 skilled artisans and 1,000 elephants. Aptly described by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore as “a tear-drop on the cheek of time,” this exquisitely poetic edifice in iridescent marble captures the hearts and minds of millions of admirers even today. Indeed, some projects can have a timeless impact!

However, in a competitive world awash with ephemeral opportunities, economic vagaries, and occasional windfalls, the commercial motive has become an undeniable driving force in the spawning of projects. The inexorable drive to capture new markets, outmaneuver peers, and displace rivals compels companies to launch innovative projects. The window of opportunity to deliver a unique product to market can be fleeting, and timing becomes of strategic importance to the company. In the turbulent computer industry for instance, the danger of delaying the market entry of software can be tragically real to firms in the rat race. Therefore, the necessity to complete projects as quickly as possible— within technological, financial, and human resource constraints—is becoming increasingly evident today.

Exhibit 1. Client Interest, Project Stake, Resources, Creativity, and Uncertainty

Client Interest, Project Stake, Resources, Creativity, and Uncertainty

Reflections on the Project Commissioning Phase

The Commissioning Phase of the project is not only the final stage of the project life cycle, but is also in many ways an anti-climactic one. The excitement of the Execution Phase with its hectic activity and critical dependencies give way to a greater focus on efficiency: we enter a more hum-drum routine of checklists, tests, troubleshooting, and meticulous documentation.

The Commissioning Phase commences with completion of the first major deliverable, and finishes when the facility, product, or service is formally handed over to the client— whether internal or external to the sponsoring organization. In any event, the Commissioning Phase carries the highest stake with significant risk impact and severe consequences due to cumulative investment in the project (Widerman 1998). This is depicted in Exhibit 1 where the uncertainty regarding the project outcome decreases steadily through the project life cycle, whereas the investments in the project— hence the stake—increases, reaching its highest levels during the Commissioning Phase. Further, the creativity required for activities decreases rapidly, from the high levels occurring during the Design and Execution Phases. Similarly, we see a sharp decrease in the deployment of resources as we move towards project termination.

In this context, we need to look at the purpose of the project: to satisfy the customer with a product, facility, or service that has been contracted for delivery on time, within budget, and satisfying performance criteria (Tukel and Rom 2001, 402). The increasing focus by businesses on customer satisfaction has driven competition, improved quality, and fuelled innovation in the past two decades. Despite the lack of interest in the Commissioning Phase by project practitioners and even researchers in the project management area, the customer shows the highest interest in the first and last phases of the project: the Planning Phase and the Commissioning Phase (Frame 1998). This is depicted in Exhibit 1. At the beginning of the project, the client is interested in making sure that the stated requirements are formally planned and scoped for. At the end of the project, the client asks the question: “Will the project be completed on time and meet our specifications?” Naturally, the client’s level of interest is very high towards the end of the project. Thus, both the project and its client have a joint stake in successful completion of the project.

It can be deduced that of the three generic parameters— time, cost, and performance—time moves to center stage in the Commissioning Phase, with performance close on its heels. The substantial part of cost has already been sunk into the project, and has largely been dealt with in earlier phases through progress payments, as well as through external stakeholders’ mediation. Now, delivering the output of the project on time becomes critical for the client, especially where the timing of market entry is a driving factor of paramount importance.

We generally extol the value and virtue of time as a critical parameter and constraint in project management. It must be conceded, however, that late termination may not necessarily mean project failure. Consequently, projects that are late, with major flaws and cost overruns, may find not only acceptance, but also often also market success (Whittaker 2000). However, this should be treated as an exception, and contingent upon extraordinary market conditions. This paper assumes that timely project termination is a critical dimension for project success and client goodwill through containing costs and maximizing post-project benefits.

A major problem with the Commissioning Phase is that it reinforces the “inverted black box” (Lundin and Soderholm 1998b) syndrome of project management, wherein efficiency is emphasized over effectiveness. The project personnel see termination as the end of a tunnel, rather than the glorious beginning of innovative change and exciting opportunities in the societal environment. It is important to ensure that the linkages between the terminating project and the big picture of organizational strategy are made more visible towards the end of the project. This will enhance the morale of project personnel, sharpen understanding of the overall fit of the project with the environment, and promote effectiveness—well before commencement of the Commissioning Phase.

Project Termination

Projects are a means by which organizational strategy is implemented, and may often have social, economic, and environmental impacts that far outlast the projects themselves (Project Management Institute 2000, 4–5).Yet projects by definition are time bound, and must terminate. Indeed, the substantive objective of a project is to “attain the objective”and close the project (Project Management Insittute 2000, 5). It is certainly important to finish well. Nobody remembers an effective startup, but everyone remembers an ineffective project termination; the consequences are long lasting (Turner 1999, 329).

Certain projects are required to finish before target termination to remain competitive and to get faster returns on the investment (Dey 2000). On the other hand, many projects are aborted midstream, for both volitional and involuntary reasons. As for volitional motives, the business need for the project may no longer exist, and continuing the project will only produce a “white elephant” with little congruence or fit with organizational strategy. Legal problems and environmental concerns may arise, necessitating the dissolution of the project to avoid severe penalties that may exceed any benefit from the project. On the obverse, involuntary failure of the project may occur due to insufficient financial support, poor leadership, weak front-end planning, and excessive negative impacts of project stakeholders.

It is also possible to terminate a project that has not attained all its objectives. Such projects have inflexible deadlines, such as widely advertised conference dates. Whether the preparations and fine details of such a project is complete or not, the project itself has to terminate on the due date. This seems to be common where the deliverable is a service. Yet, not all projects are terminated in the conventional sense. There are four fundamentally different ways to terminate a project (Meredith and Mantel 2000, 540–545):

Termination by extinction.The project may be stopped because it has been either successful, or unsuccessful. Examples of successful projects include the launch of a software program; the inauguration of an automobile production line; and, the completion of a new school building. Unsuccessful projects may include a drug manufacture that has failed efficacy tests; a project that is no longer cost-effective; and, a disposal site that has failed to meet environmental standards.

Termination by addition. This is where a project is made more or less an external, but full-fledged addition to the parent organization. For example, a new department of a university would be built as an extension of existing university facilities, to operate with substantial independence from other segments of the institution.

Termination by integration.This is the most common way of dealing with successful projects, and the most complex. The output of the project becomes part-and-parcel of the operating systems of the parent or client, becoming embedded in day-to-day operations. This requires thorough integration with primary operations at various levels, distributing the output among existing functions.

Termination by starvation. As the term suggests, the financial, human, and material resources needed to execute the project are curtailed or withheld. The project is effectively dead, and merely on minimal life-support system for legal reasons. Termination by murder, or “projecticide” is an interesting variation, where the incomplete project is terminated without warning.

A fifth category of project termination could be added to this: Termination by suspension.In some cases, a project may be suspended or shelved for a period, and resumed at some future point. A pharmaceutical product that needs input from the product of a forthcoming project is an example where it is pointless to continue the project until the key ingredient is available.

The following statistics compiled by the Standish Group should compel our attention (North 2001):

• 31 percent of projects are cancelled before completion.

• 53 percent of projects overrun costs by 188 percent and schedule by 222 percent.

• Only 16 percent are delivered on time, within budget, and with correct functionality.

Considering these staggering statistics, it is clear that the losses to firms implementing projects would run into trillions of dollars in monetary terms alone, apart from loss of markets, opportunity costs, and organizational failures. Therefore, there is an imperative need to analyze the factors causing termination delays with a view to addressing the problem. The salutary effects of minimizing the chances of delayed termination can hardly be exaggerated.

Factors Causing Termination Delays

Strategic

Project success involves strategic control of the formulated goals and the methods used to accomplish the venture. Lack of sustained support by top management can be a serious problem in maintaining the project schedule toward timely completion. Further, the project champion may have lost power in a political shakeout within the parent organization, resulting in the unfortunate demise of the project. In addition, the strategy of the company may have been altered during the project life cycle, making the project incongruous with the firm’s new strategic objectives and directions. The parent organization may have thus lost interest in ensuring project success. Finally, the project in question may have negative effects on other projects being implemented in the overall project portfolio of the firm—and therefore may be delayed, suspended, or killed.

Financial

The scope of the project may be inconsistent with the company’s financial strength or strategy. Thus, some companies may simply run out of money towards the end of their project due to underestimation or unforeseen inflation (Dey 2000). In this case work cannot continue, causing serious disruption of schedules and milestones. “Termination by starvation” is a variation of this, where the project is deliberately retarded and killed by choking its financial resources. Further, changes in government regulatory requirements can be costly and time-consuming.

Behavioral

The tendency of project participants to postpone irksome or difficult tasks as long as possible can cumulate along the time continuum toward the Commissioning Phase to extend its tail beyond the Target Termination Date (TTD in Exhibit 3). During the Commissioning Phase, project team members are laid off in increasing numbers. This can cause morale problems, with people losing their social contacts nurtured over the project life cycle. Those who remain through the Commissioning Phase also have the anticlimactic experience of slow-down in some aspects of the project. Finally, there is also stress built up due to anxiety about subsequent employment after project termination. The result can be depression and erratic behavior. Some of them may even leave due to burnout, or to seek other employment. Paradoxically, fear of unemployment may impel personnel to retard project progress.

Organizational

Inadequate or unwieldy project organization structure can be a problem, as much time is wasted in inefficient logistics, reporting relationships, and information flows. Poor planning of the project details and slipshod scope definition can significantly jeopardize the chances of meeting project targets, including its termination date. Related to this is the all-too-common careless attitude toward planning the commissioning activities. In many cases, the termination date is arbitrarily imposed without considering all milestones, resources, and constraints. Such unrealistic scheduling increases project risk, adds cost, and jeopardizes quality. Further, poor staffing, weak responsibility matrices and tenuous team development cause severe morale and substandard productivity problems. Finally, incompetent project leadership can be disastrous.

Cultural

Project commissioning can also be delayed due to ethnic cultural problems that vary from time perceptions, to power relationships, to work ethics.

Time. The scrupulous performance of contractors and subcontractors is vital. It is therefore important to thoroughly investigate the credentials. The concept of time differs greatly from one culture to another. Some cultures such as that of the United States (US) look at time from a linear perspective. Time cannot be “wasted” because it never comes back! On the other hand, Middle Eastern cultures treat time in a cyclical manner. For them, it is not a linear phenomenon, but cyclical. This has significant implications from a project perspective. Americans will consider the ability to complete a project on time as a virtue, and to complete it ahead of schedule would be a laudable achievement. Westerners will chafe at unnecessary delays, but Middle Eastern cultures will consider socialization and consequent delays to schedule as culturally acceptable, and even appropriate.

Work ethics. In Western cultures, hard work goes in tandem with other values such as materialism, practicality, and efficiency. Further, efficiency is measured in terms of costs and profits. Success is correlated to positive cash flows. In many other cultures, relaxing and engaging in aesthetically pleasing activities are considered important counter-balances to hard work. Efficiency is tempered with enhancement factors such as satisfaction and enjoyment, rather than with purely materialistic motives.

Contract. In some countries, contracts are not held in high regard, and they can be violated without serious consequences. Many international legal contracts are therefore not enforceable. This can be a problem when dealing with subcontractors—and even major contractors—who become critical stakeholders in ensuring project success. The records of accomplishment of these key stakeholders to the project should therefore be scrutinized during the bidding process itself.

Change. Most people resist change, but Westerners accept it as necessary for practical reasons. In fact, Americans associate change with growth and real progress. On the other hand, some cultures consider changes disrespectful and disruptive.

Individualism. Developing nations in general, as well as socialistic Western countries are likely to have a collectivistic tendency. That is, the individual is subordinate to the group’s overall welfare. In capitalistic cultures, individualism is passionately pursued. Consequently, competitiveness, privacy, and idiosyncrasy are prevalent in cultures such as the American.

Power. In many countries such as the Scandinavian countries, equality and the democratic approach are cherished, and power mongering is frowned upon. On the other hand, some cultures thrive on hierarchies of power; several advanced countries even practice discrimination based on race, religion, age, or ethnic origin. Middle Eastern and Asian cultures tend to relegate women to a subservient status and frown upon their leadership roles.

Exhibit 2. Early Bird Termination Date

Early Bird Termination Date

Operational

Project operations include all production support activities. Operational processes in the project can be both hard and soft. Whereas the hard processes such as equipment operations are predictable and managed with scientific precision, the soft processes such as the training of the client’s staff are fraught with uncertainty and complexity. The operations team of the client that takes over the product may take longer than expected to learn the ropes. In general, operational reasons for delays in commissioning the project revolve around the following:

• Poor project definition and sequencing of the detailed CPM schedule

• Incorrect scope definition, planning, and procurement that frustrate operations

• No mapping of probability and severity of project risks, or plans for risk mitigation

• Technological novelty of innovative projects with high complexity and uncertainty

• Poor contract administration, document control, record keeping, and logistics

• Strong interdependencies between successive activities, with little flexibility

• Poor stakeholder management from Planning Phase to Commissioning Phase

• Engineering and design changes after the Design Phase.

Further, during the Commissioning Phase, it can be a frustrating experience to run into snags when conducting various equipment and process tests. For instance, crucial documents may be missing, and specifications and troubleshooting information may be untraceable. This is made worse by the sharp drop in resource loading during the Commissioning Phase (Exhibit 1), making it difficult to get timely assistance. These bugs can introduce delays through schedule slippages for process, equipment, and program completions.

Managing for Timely Termination

Orderly termination on or before the Target Termination Date (TTD) is important to ensure client satisfaction and neat completion of the project and its final payments. It is also good for favorable publicity for the firm, for general goodwill in the community, and for repeat business with competitive clients. Frustration and panic hardly make for good public relations. Yet, timely termination of a project cannot happen by accident. It requires astute, time-conscious, and diligent management on various fronts. Guidelines for this are briefly outlined under several headings, and may be modified according to the nature of each project. A summary of factors for late commissioning, and suggested remedies, are given in Exhibit 2.

Project Commissioning Management

1. Create a Commissioning Team during the Planning Phase. The team should consist of representatives from key stake-holders: major contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and the client. The Commissioning Team should also comprise detail-oriented project players with diverse functional backgrounds.

2. Appoint a Commissioning Manager (CM) to lead the team and report to the project manager. This team-leader should be detail-oriented, and be familiar with both the technical and administrative details of the project. “The magic of an outstanding product or a superior process is in the details” (Clark and Wheelwright 1993, 597).

3. Treat commissioning management as a “project within a project” (Sohmen 1992) with cost, schedule, and reporting plans.

4. Begin the training of the client’s operations team during the Precommissioning stage of the Commissioning Phase.

5. Optimize processes associated with the Commissioning Phase, especially at the interfaces of subprocesses.

6. The initiating and planning processes of the Commissioning Phase should actually commence in the Planning Phase of the overall project.

7. The commissioning planning process started in the Project Planning Phase should be continually reviewed and revised through the subsequent phases.

Exhibit 3. Summary of Factors Causing Late Termination, and Remedial Steps

Summary of Factors Causing Late Termination, and Remedial Steps

8. The Executing, Controlling, Testing, and Terminating processes for commissioning are to be conducted only during the Commissioning Phase.

Project Stakeholder Management

1. Identify and group project stakeholders (for, against, neutral) and analyze their respective possible impacts on the project through the project life cycle.

2. Isolate and analyze stakeholders with possible negative impacts on the project (such as environmentalists and local competitors). Plan to counter these impacts.

3. Incorporate and involve the key primary project stake-holders (including the client, labor union, suppliers, contractors, consultants, and government agencies) in the Project Plan, and in every subsequent phase of the project.

4. Make needed information available to the stakeholders at appropriate times, ensuring that key stakeholders clearly concur with the project objectives.

5. Commence training at the earliest practicable time for the client-operator to operate the facility, or to use the product to meet or exceed the contracted performance criteria.

Project Risk Management

1. Include stakeholders in the risk analysis criteria to forestall termination delays.

2. Identify, prioritize, evaluate, and mitigate project risks early in the project.

3. Make contingency plans using realistic scenarios and time-sensitive alternatives.

4. Aggregate the risks after identifying them. The higher the number of risks that can be aggregated, the more marked the effect in the reduction of overall risk (Steyn 2001).

Total Quality Management (TQM)

1. Incorporate TQM in the project scope and plan to help compress schedules while enhancing quality—the customer-focused project manager’s primary success measure (Tukel and Rom 2001, 412).

2. Formalize and document construction and quality standards against cost and time factors. It must be kept in view that excessive quality can delay the project and raise costs, whereas substandard quality can cause friction with the client.

3. Save time by minimizing the necessity of rework by doing things right the first time—this is a matter of systematic and resolute TQM in action. Rework is wasteful because it pushes the project beyond time and budget limits (Wester 1999).

4. Insist on quality in every aspect of the project, as it instills discipline, raises morale, and enhances pride in the work,while effecting long-term cost-efficiencies.

5. Ensure that the client’s Acceptance Tests are successfully carried out with due attention to quality and to meeting contractual performance specifications.

Project Human Resources

1. Appoint a competent project manager with an excellent record of accomplishment of projects completed on time, and with favorable post-project performance reviews.

2. Ensure the adequacy of project human resources in number, experience, and skills. Select project team members with high intrinsic motivation, and insist on disciplined and persistent efforts.

3. Allow sufficient autonomy of personnel for rapid decision-making and progress.

4. Retain the more detail-oriented self-starters during the Commissioning Phase.

5. Appoint a CM spearheading a composite Commissioning Team during the Planning Phase. The CM reports to the project manager.

6. Make plans well before the Commissioning Phase to re-deploy project personnel in other projects, or to return them to their functional departments.

7. Provide adequate retraining and interim compensation until alternate employment of those who are to be laid off after project termination.

8. Incorporate a performance incentive and reward system for those who help to compress the project schedule toward accomplishing the EBTD (Exhibit 3).

Project Planning and Control

1. Scope out the project thoroughly at the outset in the planning phase, ensuring formalization of the project objectives, scope baseline, work breakdown structure, reporting structures, and commissioning milestones. Fine tune estimates as more accurate information comes in along with decreasing uncertainty (Exhibit 1). A well-defined scope and work content provides the highest chances of meeting project targets (Widerman 1998).

2. Tighten up project controls during the Commissioning Phase, with more frequent control meetings, using information technology and strong interdependencies.

3. Streamline performance-reporting structures: status reports, progress tracking, change management, and forecasting through all the phases of the project.

4. Use a Commissioning Decision Support System (CDSS). Such a system harnesses the power of the computer to store, process, and communicate information across different project players and stakeholders. The CDSS also helps analyze and select from alternatives (Dey 2000).Further, it has the potential to play a crucial role in improving the effectiveness of problem solving at the working level (Clark and Wheelwright 1993, 624).

Document Control

1. Appoint a Document Controller (DC) during the Planning Phase, who reports to the CM as part of the Commissioning Team.

2. Deliveries of change orders, drawings, and user manuals should be marked as milestones in the project schedule, and tracked by the DC.

3. To avoid frustrating delays and backtracking, ensure that all manuals, invoices, patents, drawings, and other documentation in the project are trailed, indexed, approved, copied, distributed, and archived throughout the project life cycle.

4. Create and update checklists of both technical and administrative details to be completed during the Commissioning Phase.

5. Close contracts with suppliers, contractors, and sub-contractors in a timely manner.

Project Time Management

1. Be deliberate in deciding on the Target Termination Date (TTD), as projects flounder when this final project milestone is too ambitious and unrealistic.

2. Shore up project time management and optimize the Critical Path1—re-examining activity definition, activity sequencing, activity duration estimating, schedule development, and schedule control. The higher the number of activities on the Critical Path of a project, the more the project duration can be reduced (Steyn 2001).

3. Fine-tune work breakdown structure to increase parallel activities and to compress the schedule. Schedule all noncritical activities as late as possible, but with buffers that feed into the Critical Path, constantly monitoring them as well (Steyn 2001).

4. Create an “Early Bird Termination Date” for the Project Team to aim for, from 5 percent to 10 percent ahead of the Target Termination Date for the Client (Exhibit 3). Compress the project schedule and seek to increase parallel activities throughout the project. The best way to achieve this would be to finish as many activities as possible ahead of schedule, however trivial. The resulting floats (Late Start–Early Start) will snowball into an aggregate “buffer.” However, the extra labor deployed, and provision of incentives to contractors and subcontractors to meet this “Early Bird Termination Date” would offset any cost savings from early finish (see S-Curves).

Concurrent Engineering (CE)2

Adopt Concurrent Engineering (CE) from the Planning/ Design Phase onwards to enable efficient compression of the project schedule without sacrificing quality.3

Use Concurrent Engineering in the Design/Execution Phase to integrate the generally fragmented construction process, by concurrently designing products and their related processes, including manufacture and support (Kamara et al 2001; Dey 2000).

Used prudently, the teamwork, information sharing, and early client approvals through CE can result in up to 70 percent reduction in product development time (Prasad 1996).

Project Culture Management

• Insist on culturally sensitive project leadership.

• Incorporate a diversity policy throughout the project.

• Build trust and transparent communication among diverse players.

• Clarify reporting, responsibility, and accountability relationships.

• Use simplified, transcultural computer-mediated-communication (CMC).

• Provide rich socialization to build and maintain project morale.

Project Communication Management

Redesign communication systems to eliminate gaps or blind spots, aiming for richness of connectivity, fluidity, and transparency of communication.

Use both fixed and mobile voice communication systems effectively.

Employ computerized data warehousing for easy access to information by all parties involved, at least in “read-only” format, with proprietary access for key personnel to make changes and updates.

Set up discussion forums on the project website/extranet4 to enable both synchronous and asynchronous project communication around the clock.

Arrange periodic discussion sessions to resolve bottlenecks and conflicts.

Encourage cross-cultural communication to overcome language barriers.

Summary and Conclusions

Timely and orderly project termination capstones “project success.” To significantly increase the chances of meeting the Target Termination Date (TTD), the following are recommended:

• Appoint a detail-oriented CM (and team) in the Planning Phase, with both administrative and technical skills, and reporting to the project manager.

• Formalize and plan the Commissioning Phase as a “project-within-a-project”—with its own cost, schedule, reporting criteria, meetings, milestones, and manpower loading— during the project Planning Phase. Appoint a DC.

• Develop a Commissioning Decision Support System (CDSS) with a computerized database to track, analyze, compile, duplicate, and archive project manuals, drawings and reports—throughout the project life cycle, and not only during commissioning.

• Create an “Early Bird Termination Date” (EBTD) to provide a buffer of around 5–10 percent of the project life cycle, ahead of the Target Termination Date (TTD). Constantly compress task schedules by finishing discrete activities early to accumulate sufficient float to achieve the EBTD. Use TQM and CE techniques, giving incentives to suppliers, contractors, and subcontractors to steer the project to remain within the TTD.

• Build and sustain high morale throughout among project personnel (especially during the Commissioning Phase), maintaining fluid and transparent communications.

Little dedicated research has been undertaken to explore the reasons for delays in the termination of projects. Once the project is thoroughly scoped, it is reasonable to aim for and achieve control of every phase and milestone. Timely project termination can be achieved only if delays are not allowed to accumulate through the project phases. This paper has looked briefly at strategic, financial, behavioral, organizational, cultural, and operational reasons for tardy project termination. These ideas need to be empirically tested. For instance, completed projects could be examined in three diverse industries (e.g., computer, automobile, and petro-chemical) for causes of termination delays. What are the factors that could be controlled within the project? What potential problems need to be controlled from outside the project? What are the weighted impacts of stakeholders? Have they helped or hindered project progress? How can project personnel be motivated to work concertedly towards timely project termination? These could be investigated in depth for new insights. This effort would be well worth it, for there is much at stake when companies fail to launch their facilities, products, and services in a timely manner in an unforgiving, competitive environment.

A project can be pictured as a ship being constructed in an artificial harbor, hemmed in by the constraints of time, cost, and performance criteria. The fledgling behemoth is given every protection possible, all the resources needed, and systematically transitioned from phase to phase. When the vessel is ready to be launched, she acquires a fresh beauty, identity, and life of her own. She sails gracefully under her own power towards the opening of the harbor. It is not the end of a tunnel with a mere glimmer of light, but a vast and sun-drenched ocean of opportunity and excitement. The ship can expect to be tempest-tossed, but whether she will weather the occasional storm will depend crucially on what transpired during the construction of the project. Project commissioning management plays a major role in the destiny of the “ship” produced by the project. Successful project termination can best be achieved when it is conceived and formalized at the beginning of the project, and sustained as a guiding principle through every phase of the project. Termination then is a herald’s trumpet—not a swansong.

Notes

1. The Critical Path is defined as “… the series of activities which determines the earliest completion of the project …” (Project Management Institute 2000).

2. An interesting variation Concurrent Engineering (CE) is Simultaneous Engineering (SE) where downstream activities are pulled forward as long lead-time activities within the project plan, leading to overlapping of both upstream and downstream activities and an engineering profile change (Clark et al 1991).

3. CE is somewhat similar to Business Process Re-Engineering (BPR), which involves radical change of a generally qualitative nature. CE is more gradual, continuous, and customer-focused, and is quantitatively oriented.

4. An extranet is a restricted Internet database of information relevant to the project, and allows electronic communication (email, address-book, chat, warnings, and so on) among project participants.

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Proceedings of PMI Research Conference 2002

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