If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem, and one minute resolving it” – Albert Einstein

These words aptly represent the problem that exists with the traditional view of project controls – a parochial focus on the Delivery or Implementation stage of a project.

While project delivery is key to realising the value of a project, creating the value occurs primarily in the early stages of a project, and well before delivery gets underway.

Similarly, research suggests that cost of getting the early stages wrong, such as misdiagnosing the business problem, is up to 10 times costlier to an organisation than project implementation failures. In Australia, inaccurate understanding of requirements is the #1 primary cause of project failure (PMI, 2018).

Figure 1: Value Impact by Project Stages


Helmsman has reviewed more than 1,000 major projects over the past 15 years, and we have rarely come across projects that fail because of poor execution. This is because organisations, over the years, have matured their project delivery capabilities. Reasons for project failure lie mainly upstream of delivery management for most organisations.

Helmsman’s success in driving project performance lies in its holistic and outcome focused framework from project inception to completion. The focus is on creating maximium value before delivery with emphasis on understanding the problem and business outcome, and designing maximum value into the solution.

Figure 2: Helmsman’s Project Performance Framework


Each element of the framework plays a key role in driving value from the project:

  1. Leadership Alignment: Ensures ownership and alignment across senior stakeholders relating to strategy, benefits and expectations management.
  2. Value Management: Ensures outcome definition, ambiguity resolution and performance measurement so requirements are right, the scope is managed and benefits delivered.
  3. Solution Options: Evaluation of the various project options to achieve the desired outcome. There are usually different approaches available that need to be considered on the basis of a risk-reward appraisal.
  4. End State Design: Ensures a complete model for the project ‘end product’ is in place to enable it to achieve the desired benefits.
  5. Execution Planning: The distributed responsibility for managing Project and Contextual Risk as well as escalating issues and overseeing the mitigation and resolution of solutions.
  6. Delivery Management: Supplier, Schedule, People & Project Management. Ensuring the right work is done by the right team at the right time to the right level of quality.
  7. Governance & Risk: The distributed responsibility for managing Project and Contextual Risk as well as escalating issues and overseeing the mitigation and resolution of solutions.
  8. Stakeholder Mobilisation: Effective approaches to stakeholder identification engagement, change management, conflict resolution and enabling transfer to ‘business as usual.


Why does this get better outcomes?

This approach provides a number advantages over traditional frameworks:



What it means for you?

  • Ensures projects deliver the business outcome by aligning the problem definition, business outcome, solution design and delivery outputs.
  • Builds an organisational capability to objectively assess projects and put in place fit for purpose controls.
  • Sets projects up for success by focusing on not only the hard factors but also the soft (sociological) factors, which research suggests are more likely reasons for failure in complex projects.

If you’d like to know more, check out Helmsman’s Project Performance Diagnostic or get in touch with our Project Performance team.


Helmsman are the experts in complex project performance. Our leading-edge research into complex project management, carried out by the Helmsman Institute, identifies precisely what makes major projects and programs succeed or fail. From this, we have developed a suite of invaluable tools and services to assist our clients achieve performance outcomes in complex projects.