Program management: How to gain client confidence around cost, risk, and delivery
Managing costs on large scale infrastructure programs is an enormous challenge. As infrastructure consultants and program managers, it’s one of the most important ways that we help our clients.
Just as delivery models demand different approaches, every project is unique. Likewise, different clients want different levels of control over their programs. To satisfy clients and integrated stakeholder teams and to drive effective, proactive interventions, the program management team must generate insights that provide the appropriate level of visibility over commercial and financial data as well as project delivery progress. This is as much about identifying areas for improvement as creating a culture that always examines where further improvements can be made.
At AECOM, we constantly innovate the way we use systems, tools, and data analysis so that we can trust the data and the insights it brings. Here are some key ways that a combined data analysis and behavioral approach helps us to avoid the use of ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’ in decision-making, allowing us to drive project efficiencies while helping clients meeting strategic outcomes, particularly on large infrastructure programs.
Collaborate and integrate early with key stakeholders
As a consultant, we establish the exact level of control clients need by engaging in upfront communication before the project even starts. Once that’s achieved, we can tailor the level of visibility around cost and risk management throughout the program lifecycle as well as assurance around delivery. It’s crucial to get this step right. Get it wrong, and clients lose confidence quickly.
Ultimately, it’s up to the consultant to understand clients’ needs. Of course, the better the relationship between client and consultant, the easier it is for parties to collaborate. This trust is often built up across multiple programs.
Establish data trust
Managing and presenting information sits at the heart of effective program delivery organisation. Digital dashboards, such as Power BI, allow us to give clients maximum visibility of their projects as they are fed by data from multiple sources to generate regular progress reports.
For this process to work most efficiently, it is important to establish data trust right from the outset so that all parties can focus on the trends and intelligence gleaned from the information rather than the quality of what is being presented.
For example, in our work with West Midlands Combined Authority, we manage four different design packages and use Power BI to consolidate project information in one integrated overview. The skill and experience of the program team is critical in translating the data so that the information informs decision-making and drives improvements.
In addition, the program team must judge exactly how to present the information to best meet stakeholder needs and intents. In reality, the possibilities are endless – all data levels could be opened if the client so wished and presented either digitally or on paper. In the past, this would have been a huge, resource-intensive undertaking. Now, however, the process is much more efficient and a lean team of skilled operatives using a single source of truth can meet even the heaviest of data demands.
Opening a window on strategic outcomes
Most programs exist to create or enable some form of wider strategic outcomes. Having a thorough understanding of these outcomes allows us to drive the right data through the digital dashboard so that it becomes the lens through which customers, owners and delivery teams can measure performance against them. Right from the start, all program team members should be able to answer the question, ‘Why are we doing this and how are we contributing to those outcomes?’ In this way, individual organisational needs are no longer the primary driver for decision-making.
Ultimately, setting the environment for how multi-discipline different organisations work together and behave commercially will drive program success, which should be measured on the realization of the wider benefits as well as the traditional critical success factors of time, cost, and quality. Generating insights from trusted data to provide the appropriate level of visibility is key to making this happen.