Every project aims to deliver high-quality outcomes at an acceptable price. This is not a new challenge, but recent developments are making it more troublesome than ever in many areas, and in particular when it comes to public services. Across the UK, local councils are having to make better spending decisions in order to cope with constant cuts while trying to maintain quality services at the same time. So how can we better focus on delivering high quality outcomes?
Balancing quality and price is something that can be learned from previous successful projects. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the chance to focus on them, especially in challenging times. In a recent Guardian article, the director of the UK’s Government Outcomes Lab, Mara Airoldi, claimed that years of focusing on the complexities of Brexit has deflected government attention from many health and social projects. In order to move forward and focus on delivering quality outcomes at a low cost, it may be time for central government to pay attention to the various projects that have been successfully run by local councils, the NHS, and other public service providers.
Here at Verto, we are aware of how well some local initiatives are working. We know from our extensive work with local government and across the NHS that with the right systems in place, projects can be successfully completed to a high quality and on modest budgets. How can project managers better focus on delivering high–quality outcomes at an acceptable price?
1. Pay attention to pricing from the outset
Poor pricing at the beginning of a project leads to problems as the project progresses. This is exacerbated in a climate of austerity and spending cuts. Low budgets make it tempting for project teams using outside suppliers and contractors to always go for the lowest price. This in turn tempts contractors and suppliers to quote an unrealistically low price, knowing that this is the way to secure the contract.
When your project is relying on outside supply chains that have underestimated costs, you will often face delays and issues with quality. As those contractors struggle to meet their commitments, they may sub-contract at low cost in order to try to meet original targets. If contractors and suppliers do deliver on time, they may have cut costs somewhere along the way, sacrificing quality in order to meet their budget.
Pricing realistically can avoid the problems of quality dropping as overstretched contractors struggle to deliver. While it is tempting to look for the lowest possible price, delays and low-quality deliverables will ultimately drive up the cost of the project anyway.
2. Clear roles and responsibilities
When quality is sacrificed to keep costs down, a culture of blame can develop. Team members are unwilling to accept responsibility for problems and delays that they see as unavoidable due to the fact that they were working with limited resources. By ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and documented, it is possible to keep blame and conflict under control.
Each team member should know exactly which part of the project they have ownership of. The sense of ownership can help to ensure that team members do the very best they can with the part of the project for which they are responsible. This may not avoid cost versus quality issues completely, but will support individuals to produce the very best quality they can, with the budget they have, rather than constantly shifting blame onto other people. Clearly understanding in advance what your deliverable is, and what the budget for that deliverable is, can make team members surprisingly resourceful.
3. Understand expectations
It is important that all team members understand what is expected of them. Only then can they work together to produce what they need to, in order to satisfy clients, end users and other stakeholders. Producing a high–quality outcome at a low price is challenging, so it is vital to avoid wasting any resources on things that are not actually required. Not everything that costs money is necessarily adding value to the project – or it may be adding value that is not important to the stakeholders. Project managers should, of course, establish desired outcomes and expectations at the start of the project, and plan to reach those outcomes at the lowest possible cost. Constantly updating stakeholders and clarifying expectations allows the team to avoid extra costs that may be adding limited value to the project, or providing benefits that have become less relevant to end users.
4. Communicate effectively
In order to constantly clarify expectations, effective, real-time communication is vital. The right project management software can make this almost effortless, with constant project updates available to all relevant parties.
Communication within the project team can also be key to producing high–quality outcomes without running over budget. Good communication can help avoid duplicated effort and minimise delays between interdependent tasks. It can allow team members to predict what is needed in advance, and make the best use of time, skills and resources to move the project forward as smoothly as possible. Time is, of course, money, and when budgets are tight, using time efficiently is an excellent way to keep quality as high as possible.
5. Manage change carefully
Every project is subject to change as it progresses. This is a given, and is also an opportunity to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. Sudden or unpredictable changes to the project will result in delays, confusion and often a temporarily stalled project, causing budgets to get out of hand quickly, even though no actual progress is being made.
Well-managed change can have a positive impact on overall quality while keeping costs low. An honest risk assessment and effective risk management plan can mean that changes to the project are dealt with so well that there are rarely significant delays or extra costs. An assessment of “positive risks” will also allow the team to identify opportunities that arise during the project that may even improve quality or cut costs.