Delivery Frameworks: Where do you start? How do you select and implement a delivery framework that works for you?
When it comes to delivering a successful transformation or change project and maintaining a timeframe and budget, choosing the right delivery framework is vital. But when there are so many to choose from, how can you be sure you have got the right fit?
There is an almost infinite number of moving parts and influencing factors that can have a significant impact on a project. Trying to understand the elements that might be involved in setting up the project, and the appropriate steps to ensure the stability and effectiveness of the process can feel like swimming upstream. While there are many aspects and considerations for a successful project, an effective framework is a good place to start.
First things first, what is a delivery framework? Quite simply, it is the structure that supports all aspects of a project, from communication, delivery and milestone planning, and budget management, through to the leadership and governance structures of both the organisation and the delivery teams. Over the years there have been many varied attempts to develop systems to control and deliver projects with differing requirements and results. As a result, there is a lot of information out there on project and programme delivery, and it can be overwhelming, especially when teams are eager to get underway with the project. Choosing the correct framework is a key part of project initiation and will go a long way to assuring the success of the project.
The framework you choose will enable leadership alignment, time and budget control, management of benefits, and continuous progress reporting. A robust framework should allow the business to control the velocity of project delivery, and therefore the costs associated with it. When choosing the framework, leaders are also deciding how they will approve and sign off work, and the manner in which the project will be conducted. Waterfall approaches, for example, split out a project into key stages, with deliverables being agreed in advance, and signed off at the end of these stages. This can be helpful for projects where the stages are dependent, and clearly defined in advance and where the scope is unlikely to change drastically. Agile approaches, however, offer more freedom for change, as they split the project into smaller chunks, or sprints, with daily reviews by the delivery teams. This requires tight control and multi-skilled teams, but can be useful for development projects, or those where the outcomes are to be defined as the project progresses.
So, what are the key aspects that make up a delivery framework? A delivery framework should enable and support key aspects of project management: in short, leadership alignment, time and budget management, and reporting. The framework should act as the supporting structure, allowing for continuous monitoring throughout the project process, and covering the following major areas:
- Project Teams and Leadership
For a project to succeed, business leadership must be aligned and fully engaged throughout the project. Without this engagement the project is guaranteed to fail because key stakeholders and decision-makers will not have access to the level of detail required to make effective decisions. The decision-making process also goes hand in hand with roles and responsibilities, that is, the named individuals who will be responsible and accountable for projects, workstreams and individual work packages. It is crucial to any project to have people in the right roles with the right skills and experience, and unless these are clearly defined it can be difficult to identify issues and accountability, should things start to fail. This is not a question of who to shout at, but rather who will be able to explain challenges and resolve problems. Having named owners of key delivery streams, as well as leadership engagement also provides a clear path for escalation.
- Tools and Methods
The tools and methods used within a project or programme will be agreed at the start of the work. The tools used must support tracking of project resources and timelines, including hours worked, and budget remaining. It is the most basic and essential aspect of project control – as anyone who has worked on projects will know, it is easy to slide overdue and over budget! Most project delivery software will have tools built in that can help to manage these aspects, however it will require close monitoring and accurate updating to ensure that the business has access to up-to-date information.
- Milestone Planning
Viewing a project as one single piece of work is a sure-fire way to magnify the scale to unmanageable proportions! All project methodologies will split the project into smaller, easier to manage chunks of work. Whether it is Milestones and Tasks in Prince 2 or Iterations and Increments in Scaled Agile, these enable work to be delivered toward the bigger picture but in easier to manage sections.
- Quality Control
The delivery framework must also drive quality control. If a product is delivered on time and in budget, but doesn’t work, or provides different functionality to the customer’s requirements, then the project cannot be defined as a success; there must be a continuous feedback loop to enable peer and leadership control of what is being delivered. This is one of the most crucial aspects of any project. If this fails, then there is no way to know whether what is delivered will suit the requirements until the end, and then it will be too late to rectify this.
- Business as Usual
The framework must also ensure that the management of the project works alongside, and does not interfere with, business as usual. This aspect of a project is often forgotten, or left to the last, when any integration with day-to-day operations is often left too late to be effective. When managed well it can lead to an effective transition with happy users, however when managed poorly it can lead to low adoption and extremely dissatisfied users.
There are many frameworks out there, but some widely used ones include:
This is an Agile approach – it is flexible and scalable. This approach is best used where the end product is unknown, as delivery is split into incremental chunks, and each chunk acts as an effective deliverable.
Prince 2 is a Waterfall approach. All project deliverables and budget are set up front. Follows a pre-defined delivery approach and roadmap. Anything outside of original scope must come through a formal change request process and be agreed at board level
SAFe is a scaled agile. It combines the traditional scrum/Kanban structure, with lean and DevOps. At the team level it can use either scrum or Kanban but it focuses on having the minimum amount of work in progress at any time, to ensure that work is completed incrementally, and benefits are realised as early as possible.
So, once you have researched the available frameworks, how do you select the right framework for your project?
It is important for a project to put the ‘customer’ (whether internal or external) at the centre. This means focusing on the desired outcomes of the project, as well as the current operating style of the business or team, and the capabilities required. The ‘customer-centric’ mindset is a way of ensuring that the project delivery is as efficient and productive as possible, and in line with organisational goals.
In some cases, organisations are already aligned to a chosen framework. Whilst this can be helpful when knowing exactly what is required, it can also be limiting, leading to projects being badly defined, poorly budgeted, and ultimately failing. A more effective way of managing projects is to have a ‘selection box’ of frameworks from which to choose. This naturally requires some time and investment to set up, but will mean that when it comes to running projects, businesses are in a position to choose the best fitting framework for the specific project, rather than shoehorning things into the ‘standard’ approach.
When selecting the right framework for a project it is vital to consider the following:
- What is the project?
It may be appropriate to run a software delivery project using an iterative, scrum framework, but a process re-engineering, or procurement project may require a different approach.
- Do you know exactly what the end product will look like?
If the answer is yes, and this won’t change, then a waterfall project will be effective. If the answer is no, not fully, or the scope might be flexible, then an agile approach might be more appropriate. Waterfall projects often fail because scope creep is not controlled effectively.
- What budget is available?
Does the full budget need to be approved and signed off from the start, or will it be released through phases based on what has been previously delivered?
- What resources are available?
Is it possible to create cross-skilled teams that can work together on specific streams of the project, or will the project need to utilise skills across the business in more diverse teams? It is vital to understand the skills and capabilities required and map them to the capacity available, to understand whether additional resources will be required.
But, what if you already have a project in progress? How do you go about identifying whether the framework is effective, and how can you seek to improve it? It is not easy to change a project framework once the project has begun, however it can in many cases be more effective to stop and fix, than to continue down a damaging path. A good place to start is by reviewing current project progress, and measuring performance of the following key criteria: budget, timelines, and reporting.
Budget: How effective is the budget management? If your projects are regularly over or significantly under budget then there is a potential issue that will need to be addressed.
Timelines: How effective is time management? Projects should be time-bound pieces of work. If projects are running over the expected time or if it is unknown how long a project should take it could be worth looking at a different framework.
Reporting: How frequent and transparent is the reporting process? Business leadership must be kept aware of the project progress. It can be tempting to hide when things are not going as expected, but without progress reporting it is impossible for leadership to make effective decisions and resolve issues.
An effective delivery management system is key for any organisation when working with individual projects, or larger transformation programmes. Putting the correct framework, people, and tools in place prior to commencing any project work will reduce the risk of project failure and mitigate the risks to the business as a whole.
Recognising when something is not working is a vital skill for leaders, and being able to evolve and adapt as necessary creates organisational resilience. Whenever aspects of project delivery are identified as ineffective, teams should endeavour to step back and review the entire system of delivery from start to finish, as it may be that failures are occurring up stream but not being identified until later on in the delivery chain. Ultimately the success or failure of projects, programmes, or even the entire business can be decided by the delivery framework.