Critical success factors in delivering technical projects

As part of our Leadership Series we talk to Dr Sarah Tasker, founding Director of CAM-SCI, about the critical success factors in delivering technical projects

What are the critical project management principles that lead to successfully delivering technical projects? Most programme managers agree that there are many keys elements to a project’s success; from getting buy-in from key stakeholders, strong support from top management, to a clearly defined project scope.

Some of the most fundamental elements of a successful project lie in getting the set up right from the start. There’s no doubt that clear communication and expectation management, the right skills and understanding and a robust risk management plan are crucial for a project to remain on track.

We spoke to Dr Sarah Tasker, founding Director of CAM-SCI, who shared some of her thoughts on the factors that lead to the successful completion of complex technical projects. She’s worked with many clients to develop some of the UK’s most exciting science park projects in Cambridge, Oxford, London, Manchester and Liverpool.

Dr Tasker specialises in projects that involve partnerships with universities, non-profit organisations, public-sector firms and sometimes private investors. CAM-SCI work exclusively in Knowledge Economy development, a critical part of enabling the UK to fulfil its vision to be a world leader in Innovation and Technology.

“The UK economy is increasingly reliant on wealth creation coming from Knowledge Economy development”

“The UK economy is increasingly reliant on wealth creation coming from Knowledge Economy development” Dr Tasker notes; and the reason for her company’s success is their understanding of the requirements of the sector, from specialised services to infrastructure.

The property sector has often overlooked the innovation sector where the requirement is for more flexible workspace and flexible operations – with a capacity to change according to the needs of the occupants and importantly the infrastructure around emergent sectors like the life sciences, biomedicine, cyber and ICT sectors. Keeping up to date with the trends in the market, and anticipating new trends, is critical in making sure projects are fit for purpose.

Knowledge-economy development brings together public and private sectors, non-profit organisations and the education sectors including universities.  These partnerships can lead to challenges as stakeholders often approach projects with different cultures, mindsets and different priorities.

“Creating a clearly defined vision that is supported by all parties throughout the life-time of the project is a key starting point to any successful project. “

“Creating a clearly defined vision that is supported by all parties throughout the life-time of the project is a key starting point to any successful project.  Understanding the differing priorities of clients – and helping them to understand key market drivers and critical success factors, underpins vision development.  It is important that clients from all background are confident in their vision and delivery strategy.  In a fast-changing market, working within a strong evidence-based methodology is critical in creating a best-practice approach.”

She adds that as the knowledge-economy has become more main-stream in the last two decades, there is a greater awareness that a specialist approach is required to support, develop and grow companies in the innovation, science and technology sectors. Key to this is developing an in-depth understanding of the specialism that you are delivering.

Dr Tasker has an interesting point of view on the types of skills required to deliver a project successfully. “You clearly need an experienced team with the specialist skills required to complete the project within a defined project scope.  We work with teams of highly skilled designers and technical experts to deliver our specialist infrastructure, facilities and services”. However, she notes that it is just as critical to ensure that the project stays true to its vision. This sometimes means having “the integrity to keep the project on track and fighting for its best interest even when behind the scenes politics could threaten to knock it off course. “Some of our projects are in development for a period of years.  Pro-active communications with and between client stakeholders is a crucial element of successful delivery”.

Dr Tasker considers risk management essential for the successful delivery of a project. She feels that every project is unique, so it’s essential to conduct an evidence-based risk assessment rather than assume there is a “one-size-fits-all solution” when assessing risk.

She adds that in many cases, the reason a project fails is lack of a proper risk assessment before implementation. “When every client has a different appetite for risk, getting into the detail with our clients and understanding their attitude to risk, and how they perceive the kinds of risks that the project brings them is fundamental to the success of the project.”

“A significant risk to projects that is often overlooked, is losing the vision and project priorities over time or allowing them to become watered down to the detriment of the outcome.”

A significant risk to projects that is often overlooked, is losing the vision and project priorities over time or allowing them to become watered down to the detriment of the outcome. “It sometimes takes courage to voice concerns if we feel a project is being compromised but being willing to do the right thing, not just the expedient thing, has been critical to our success.  A priority for all our projects is delivering sustainable success over the long-term – both for our clients and for the tech-companies that are our target audience.”

Cloud-based project management software can make collaboration between the project management office and stakeholders more efficient and improve project control.  Verto’s work collaboration and programme management software provides real-time programme information and gives project management teams and stakeholders their own role-based customised views.

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