Procedures for project kick-off are often developed, to ensure we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

Typically to kick off a project we need:

  1. A solid business case.
  2. Someone who’s going to pay for it.
  3. An assembled team with the right expertise.
  4. Some analysis of the risks and benefits.
  5. Commitment to a schedule.


However, in the Impact Review for the CBD and Southeast Light-Rail project for Transport New South Wales, the Auditor-General reported a $1.6 billion project budget was approved without the appropriate business case!

For some (unexplained) reason, Transport New South Wales decided to abandon their own procedure of creating two detailed business cases to approve a tender and kick off a project.

They just approved the project anyway.

I wonder why a basic procedure, like creating a business case, in an organisation as public as the government would be skipped over?

New South Wales is not alone. The Victorian government has also approved a $1.5 billion payment to the East-West Road Link without any form of cost-benefit analysis.

I was not there for either of these decisions, but the answer to, ‘Why do we ignore procedure?’ seems likely ‘political pressure’ or ‘time expediency’ or ‘the solution is right there’.

The more horrifying part of this may well be how often these behaviours are repeated.

What is the purpose of a business case?

It serves as both the explanation for WHY we are embarking on a project and as a marker/reflective tool for measurement of the initial goals of the project.

In organisations where there are multiple projects competing for attention and focus, the business case can help sort out which ones will be of the greatest benefit and how they align with the strategic objectives of the business.

A business case should include:

  • Alternatives Considered
  • Benefits
  • Costs
  • Risks
  • Schedule

Having a solid business case is a fundamental step in a procedure if you want a successful project.

What is the purpose of a procedure?

Procedures exist, to help us avoid making the same mistakes again.

At 6R we advocate the use of procedures, we also walk the talk.

One of the most significant learnings of my professional life came from a project that didn’t go live.

The total project was never implemented completely and while we walked away acknowledging that there were things that each party in the delivery team was responsible for (in terms of the delivery not being met), it was a difficult time for us as a team at 6R.

Determined that we would learn everything we possibly could from this, we adopted the ‘engineering mindset’ that was described to me years earlier.

Airplane disasters have been picked over in detail to allow engineers to improve the safety of flying to a point where it’s safer to fly today than it is to drive.

We dissected, analysed and reflected until we were empty. And then we gave it some breathing space and went back in to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

I was sick of talking about it by the time we got to the end of that process, but I felt like we’d really extracted everything that we could in terms of ‘what went wrong?’

How do we stop making the same mistake again?

Our brains are, to some extent, working against us and the advice of trying to ‘learn from history’ is not going to serve us.

The science says that neural pathways are created for BOTH doing something successfully and for making a mistake. So, the act of thinking about mistakes can embed the mistake making behaviour.

The advice suggests that instead of reflecting, we should look to create the future and what we want it to look like.

How to build a better procedure for next time

Luckily for us, without any knowledge or insight that reflecting on mistakes of the past can embed them, we had enough intuition to know that we needed to do more.

We mapped out what we would do differently should we have the exact same project again and incorporate that into our standard project playbook.

We explored different scenarios and what we could have done to get a better outcome; we documented all of this as learnings and as new procedures for 6R.

Usually we don’t refer to these as ‘procedures’ as that sounds a bit too corporate for our size business and the clients that we support. Maybe they are better described as, ‘guiding principles of engagement’ that have served us better as time has gone on.

None of us should blindly follow procedure.

It’s important to bring some critical thought to the table and establish whether that process or procedure is appropriate for the situation that we’re in. It’s a balancing act.

Sometimes, we need to follow the tried and true recipe. If people have gone before and established that it’s important to make a business case, then make a business case. If you need two, get two.

In our experience, when businesses are looking to invest in systems/projects, and it is not what they do every day, following the path of companies gone before is recommended.

Getting a project off the ground without a business case is sort of like trying to bake a cake and just throwing in whatever’s in the cupboard. It’s very unlikely that things are going to turn out well.

If you are preparing for a project and want to avoid making common mistakes, then please connect.