Comparing perspectives of key project actors

Infrastructure Journal kindly invited me along for a chat on their podcast yesterday, due out next Monday {here}. I was invited to share my thoughts on the origins of risk. I squeezed much into a 20 minute slot. My principal method of fitting so much into that time was easy – I took twice as long. Sorry Angus – I hope it will be 40 minutes of something worthwhile.

In preparation for the chat I revisited my research notes from 2020, specifically my PFI orientated dissertation {link here}. This was an early part of my now ongoing research. The prompt that directed me to ask more. Research that is now directed toward both project management and psychology as interrelated themes. 730 PFI projects remains the one example I have found of a population of comparable projects representing a time frame long enough to see the true impact of systems upon systems change.

The fundamental question is one I think we have not asked. Where does risk originate from? My view is that the origin of risk in projects is us. We as the instigators of intended change. Our intent in change is the origin of risk. Risks that emerge as we orientate ourselves against each other. Risk that is created, particularly where uncertainty prevails. We orientate around influences, most of which are redirecting attention towards whichever momentarily strongest influence of one or other different project actor has. That may be an individual, or a department, a sector, or political will. Almost always such influence is directed towards themselves. The challenge therefore is how to draw all parties attention into a project’s prioritised aims. But also ensuring those aims are true.

My interim conclusions are that our politics and the lack of partnerships is ultimately what shines through. For me this is at the core of why our coordination and cooperation ideals fail. I come from a background of insurable risk. A perspective that demands anticipation of a future retrospective interest in claims. Regardless of the nature of claims however, be that commercial (including insurance and contract dispute), performance, efficacy, user disappointment, reputation, or a media frenzied sense of fairness betrayed, all claims stem from our failure to have the truest project outcomes in mind.

This is what I hope is reflected in my discussion with Infrastructure Journal, yesterday. In my opinion this is what goes to the heart of public services procurement – regardless of who is carrying the debt or asked to carry blame.

This is how we do better. We change the narrative. This is about project control. This is about outcome orientated management. This is about accountability in decision-making and clarity of purpose in leadership. This is about collaborative and coordinated cooperation. Not financial risk transfer, or “them and us” procurement, or “value for money” as a zero sum game. Not when we need everyone back, and ready to collaborate on the next.

Look out for the podcast next week. I’ll link it here when it’s released.