IPMA International Project Management Association
19 December 2016 / 8:33

Recovery projects – Better with a bloody nose…?!

By awarding the IPMA Project Excellence Award to the Medupi power plant project in South Africa, IPMA’s PEA jury has recognized and awarded a brilliant recovery project. It is an example how an initially poorly performing project can be turned around to excellence. When a project team can get blood out of stone with excellent leadership, good team management, a clear mandate and top management support and attention. A project which nearly doubled its lead time, but saved the nation from it’s daily regional power cuts and related political turmoil in a country, which hadn’t built a power station in almost 20 years.

When projects go 1st time right it may be because of excellent project management, but also because the project was just well sold, the project, technology or the environment not that challenging, complex or innovative or just by sheer luck. And I bet often the project team hardly realizes what made their success, as upon success there is normally not much reason for proper reflection. Why reflect when everyone applauds you, you don’t want cracks into the image.

In 2nd time right projects, things are completely the opposite. Such initially disaster oriented projects get, after a while, all the attention and reflection needed in order to eliminate, minimize or mitigate the root causes of trouble to turn round the project and enable the future success. Project managers often only then get the top management attention, support, mandate and handpicked team, which the original project team had been lacking. They were starting initially from a situation, which could hardly ever have led to success. But after such turnaround one really knows the causes and how to mitigate, not for once, but forever.

In The Netherlands the Institute of Brilliant failures has been established for a few years. As an initiative to develop learning through failure it promotes openness on failure to take away hiding problems and related distrust by stakeholders. Its philosophy recognizes that error is inevitable in the learning process to become better where reduction of risk avoiding behaviour is key. It also promotes entrepreneurial thinking and behaviour in projects, something which is in my view quite often lacking.

Making mistakes should be allowed. Moreover, when you don’t make mistakes it probably means that you’re probably not discovering enough new things i.e. innovating enough. Like Tuckman’s team development process, maybe projects can only become better managed when they go through the turmoil of a project development process. Henry Ford is also an excellent example of becoming better after failure; after bankruptcy of his Detroit Motor Company (est. 1899) and being kicked out of the

Henry Ford company (est. 1901) due to lack of success, he learned his lessons and succeeded with the Ford Motor Company (est. 1903), which is now in the top 5 of all car manufacturers – the rest is history. In a brilliant failure one has learnt something from one’s mistakes, something of value to the project team, one’s organization and/or the world at large, creating better projects for a better world.

So… once you’ve had a little blood on your nose you may be geared better for future success then without.


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Marco Buijnsters

Author of this post

Professional project management is already for several decades Marco’s passion. He beliefs that with more professional project management, projects and programmes can be managed in a more predicable and more successful way, leading to higher customer satisfaction. By linking his knowledge and over 30 years of (project) management experience in The Netherlands and many countries abroad, as well as learning not only by himself but also through and from others, he has obtained a pretty good idea about what works and what doesn’t work in project management. In his role as project management consultant, trainer, coach and auditor he therefore supports organizations, project teams and individuals to do a better project management job.

Marco is next to his professional career with Balance and BPC from The Netherlands, IPMA PEA Team Lead Assessor and trainer, chairman of the IPMA-NL interest group on project planning and control and is member of the IPMA-NL Finance Committee and Chair of IPMA’s international Finance Committee. He is co-organizer of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Diversity in Project Management (DiPM) conferences. Marco participates in several ISO TC 258 PM standard development committees like EVM, ISO 21.500 revamp and PM competences and is also author of a number of project management handbooks for industrial organizations and published and presented papers and facilitated workshops on project management related issues throughout the world.