The TOP Story - The (R)Evolution Started In 1989

Richard Llistro interviews TOP’s founder Jed Simms


How Did You Start Thinking About The Problem Of Poor Strategy And Project Delivery?

In The Mid-1980s I Was Head Of Strategy For A Major Bank.

I was accountable for all strategic planning, operational planning, organizational planning and operational improvement … and… for retaining all consultants used by the bank.

Yet, despite this I treated the bank’s project portfolio as an operational matter – we tracked problems or issues at management meetings but not much more than that. That the projects finished on time was enough…

What Changed? One Day...

I got a phone call from the CEO’s executive assistant. I well remember her words, “He wants to see you NOW, and he’s livid.” Not a call any executive wants to receive. I headed to his office, trying to puzzle out what I had done or not done to cause this rage. When I got there, I was subjected to a tirade on IT’s lack of performance and the poor results from projects, in particular.

“I agree,” I said. “But IT doesn’t report to me.”

“It does now!” he said. End of conversation.

Now I was accountable for all projects in the bank with a very strongly worded brief to improve the results delivered.

My position, professional reputation, and the bank’s results were now dependent on my success. I was worried. I was also now serious about and focused on results.

So How Did You Go About Improving Project Results?

I Didn’t Even Try To Fix Projects.

Why? My reasoning was simple. We weren’t the only bank getting poor results. All the other banks worldwide, most large corporations, in general … everyone has the same problems. It was (and still is) a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, two failed IT projects resulted in one bank being taken over their share price fell so much, and the second bank only narrowly escaping going out of business.

Worldwide we have some of the smartest people on the planet working on projects, yet, so often the results are appalling.

Such consistently poor performance is telling us something fundamental must be wrong … that the way in which we approach and deliver projects must be flawed.

So, trying to ‘improve’ the existing processes was a non-starter. I made a decision to step back and discover what the root problem was. Only if I could solve the root problem would I be of any use to anyone.

What I didn’t know then, was that I would end up more than two decades later challenging “the project orthodoxy” with all of its powerful allies – including inertia and false beliefs.

The Root Problem With Projects

Let me take a few steps back to explain my background.

When I started in business, “IT” existed in only the largest organizations, and there were no “IT” or “project” professionals. I fell into IT through being the Organization and Methods guy. O&M, as it was known, is what you would now call operational improvement.

As computers came in my early twenties, I was the logical choice to be the systems analyst/project manager. I understood how the business worked and had a proven record of improving its performance.

So I got moved into IT and projects but very much wearing a “business hat” and my success was seen when the business areas I worked with were operating smoothly in the new ways – when the projects delivered results to the business.

Back In The ’70s, Projects Were Led By The Business

Business lead projects in the early days but by late ’70s … that was when we started to see specialists – IT people and project managers – begin to emerge. Projects and IT projects, in particular were taken over – you could almost say ‘hijacked’- by the technical specialists.

This shift to a project focus is fundamental to the first problem I found.

The focus of the technical/project specialists is, understandably, on the project, not on the business. As that happened, the measures of project success became ‘on time, on budget’ and not the delivery of the business results. More and more projects were manned by ‘technical and project specialists’ rather than business people.

We lost the business perspective, and as the technology got more complicated, the business managers lost their sense of control and leadership over the project.

This was critical as, from my business background, I had already realized that ‘success’ was determined by what the business did or did not do – that the business determined the value generated. So, if the business were not involved, it would not get the value.

I began to feel like a ‘fish out of water’ in my own industry. Indeed, one performance review I remember criticized me (and it was intended as a criticism) as being “too user orientated!” Of actually wanting to deliver what the business wanted.

And then it got worse as the project methodologies took over.

Where Do Project Methodologies Fit?

Project Methodologies Are Good In Theory And Bad In Practice

The methodologies provided a knowledge base and framework for those doing project management and, when they were well applied across an organization, provided a common way of operating. When I was with Arthur Andersen (now Accenture), I saw the power of a common methodology that was mandated across the firm. Everyone knew what to do on every project to deliver the project results.

However, the problem with the methodologies is that the “process” became more important than the “content”. I then found myself fighting the “methods police” to deliver the desired business results … having to ignore the project methodologies and project processes in order to focus on the business.

The business Execs Should Ignore Project Methodologies

The business execs, not project people, should ignore the project methodologies.

I must admit I cringe when I hear a business exec saying they are going on a project management course so as to “understand projects better”. This is not only unnecessary but also a dangerous distraction.

Orthodox project management methodologies are designed to deliver projects. But the business does not want projects delivered; they want business results, strategies and business improvements delivered.

To the business the project is a means to the ends. To the project teams and their methodologies and the project is the end.

Orthodox project management is about protecting the narrow scope of projects as defined by the project fraternity. Their reasoning is understandable – time, cost and scope are dimensions the project manager believes they can control; that is what they are measured on, but this doesn’t change the basic problem. It is a project-centric mindset rather than business and strategy one.

We’ve let the poacher define the game-keeping rules.

Why This Project-Centric “Mindset” A Problem

Think about the project fraternity’s ‘iron triangle’ of project success – “on time, on budget, to specification.” There is no mention of the business, of business results and value.

Just imagine if Apple had delivered the iPhone this way!

When the project-centric view prevails we lose the business-value perspective and results. We need to reassert the business-centric perspective. The business needs and the investment value are what should drive the project – other wise you may as well not start the project.

Instead, what we need to have is the business’ “golden triangle” of success:

The total delivery of the desired business outcomes, benefits and value.

See the difference in perspective and language?

So The Solution To Project Problems Is To Reassert The Business Perspective?

The Business Taking Back Control Is Not The Entire Solution But It Is A Critical Element Of The Paradigm Shift.

That was the shift that I made. My starting point was the realization that projects were initiated, owned and driven by the business. Or, rather, they should be, but were not – and this was a root cause of the problem.

The business had become disenfranchised on their own projects.

It was no wonder business managers and especially CEOs were (and are still) so frustrated with projects. They realize that projects are important, but … how can they get control of them?

This is so obvious, but back then in the late ’80s, when I first started to think about this – it was an incredible revelation!

If Lack Of Business Involvement Is The Root Cause Of Project Failure, Why Has This Continued?

There Were, And Still Are, Two Reasons For This:

  1. It was easier for business managers to delegate or abdicate the project leadership workload and risks to the project people – especially as delivering projects is hard and prone to failure.
  2. While the tools for technicians and project people had been developed – the methodologies – nothing had been developed for the business. The project people were the only ones with the tools. This reinforced the first reason.

But surely the use of project specialists and tools improved results?

No they didn’t.

There are a few notable studies – the 1991 AD Little and 2011 Standish Chaos reports on project performance – two decades later – give almost exactly the same results. That 60% to 70% of projects are “challenged” when evaluated against the standard criteria of project success – time and budget.

You can argue that these reports’ use of on-time, on-budget performance measures as not being a worthwhile measure, but the point is: projects are getting into trouble every day – for the same reasons.

It is my un-researched theory that these tools have only allowed us to cope with the increasing complexity of the projects delivering the same level of poor results. Some day, I will have to research this theory in more detail.

Why Are Projects Still Getting Into Trouble So Often?

The Widely Accepted Orthodox Project Approaches Are Wrong

Put simply, using the widely accepted orthodox project approaches, we start and finish projects in the wrong place, and we measure them with the wrong measures:

  • We “start” projects at the business case – when 70% of the costs are already locked in and the likely success or failure is “baked in”;
  • We “finish” projects at the end of the project when the team hands over and is disbanded – when most of the business value has not yet been realized;
  • And we measure projects on delivery efficiency measures not business results measures.
  • And we reward project staff for delivering to these delivery efficiency measures – on-time on-budget – even though this creates an incentive to prioritize project delivery ahead of value delivery for the business.

This is orthodox practice.

How Can Business Executives Take Control Of Projects?

The Business Executives Need To Build Their Value Delivery Capability.

There have been no practical mainstream alternatives – no methodologies which were targeted specifically to business managers. This is why I created TOP®.

In practice, the only alternatives that organizations have had to access to help the business managers get control of projects and ensure that they delivered results and value have been what I describe as ‘heroes’ or ‘gurus’. In fact that was effectively what I was when I was at the bank and then The Boston Consulting Group and Arthur Andersen.

Heroes are individuals who know how to drag a project to success – this is great but the approach is hardly reliable or repeatable for an organization with tens or hundreds of projects. There aren’t enough heroes to go around.

Gurus come, deliver and then leave you with a result … but they don’t stay with you and thus when they leave take the increased knowledge with them – good or bad.

At times, you may need to use heroes or gurus – but far better than when you do use them, that you can capture that knowledge and experience to accelerate your own in-house capabilities.

So Hundreds Of Thousands Of Project Managers Have The Wrong Solution To Project Problems?

Project Managers Operate From A Project Management And Delivery Perspective

They see everything through the project lens, not the more important business value or strategy delivery lenses.

The simple truth is that we commission projects to deliver the benefits. The only reason we do a project is because we believe that the targeted end states or business outcomes are more beneficial than doing nothing and staying with the status quo.

I know this sounds SO obvious, but it was the type of revelation that changes your whole perspective. A bit like when Einstein was looking at a clock across the roofs of Vienna and realized that he wasn’t seeing the clock but the clock was sending light waves to him.

I realized that if this is the reason why we do projects then we need to focus on the benefits. But, as I explained earlier, the orthodox measures of project success do not even mention ‘benefits’ – yet it is central to our ‘golden triangle’ measures of success 

More worrying is that millions of business boards, executives and managers have bought into the project perspective and not the business benefits perspective.

It’s The Business’ Accountability.

We have lost sight of the business strategy and value perspective that must drive the projects.

Instead we see that the business has mostly delegated projects to the project fraternity – but then we – as business managers – complain about the results. We can readily expound on the project perspective and measures of success but often do not have clear measures of success for the business value.

I see too many projects where the value is unclear – where the expectation is that sometime during the project this will “all become clear”. Not a good starting recipe for success.

But to be fair, business executives haven’t had the management tools to effectively lead, manage or even govern projects. They are flying blind.

And as the number of different types of project specialists has grown – project managers, change managers, business analysts, technical architects, etc. – the business manager’s ability to take back control of their projects has diminished still further.

And meanwhile, the project specialists are also frustrated – by the lack of direction they receive. Project managers want to deliver a good result but are not getting the direction and leadership from the business to do that.

The road to recovery is getting steeper all of the time.

How Do Sponsors And Steering Committees Contribute?

Sponsors & Steering Committees Play A Crucial Role In Project Success

Yet every day, millions of highly paid executives around the world are sitting in governance meetings … not knowing exactly what their role is, how they should contribute to the success of the project, or what to do to save a failing project.

All of the major project disasters of the past 20-30 years have been ‘governed’ by otherwise competent managers who did not know what to do as their projects failed.

So, that was one of my great insights – that the business needed business benefits and value-based tools if they were to regain control of their projects and their organization’s future.

So You Developed The Tools For The Business?

Developing The Tools Has Been A 15-Year Journey

When you say it like that it sounds simple. I was at a personal development seminar in 2001 when I decided that I wanted to shift from being the “guru” consultant to formally and comprehensively documenting our tools, techniques and processes so that we could leave our clients and their staff more capable – so that they could learn during the project and then use and apply our expertise on a continuing basis.

This decision proved to be a task bigger than “Ben Hur”. It was certainly not as easy as I had thought it would be – to create a whole new world of project thinking.

It took some careful thinking about the assumptions embedded in the existing orthodox project delivery approaches and methodologies as these were based on the wrong perspective, thinking and measures of success for projects – time and cost management rather than value management.

We built each piece of TOP as we worked with clients to solve their problems. As we encountered each challenge in turn … and found the orthodoxy wanting, we had to develop an approach that worked exponentially better than the orthodox approaches. For each process I had to go back to basics.

Always the question was “what are we really trying to achieve here” and develop the process from there.

What Is ‘Engineered Thinking’ And Where Does That Fit?

Engineered Thinking™ Started With An Insight

My colleague Alex Chapman had – after an end-of-project presentation in around 2004 when we watched 30 fairly junior staff present to the Executive Leadership team at the end of the project.

To give some background, when we do a client consulting assignment, we have the staff on the team to do the final presentation of the assigment results to the Executive Leadership team – what the company is doing, what needs to be fixed and how to fix it.

We noticed – as we worked with clients’ staff, that they seemed to be developing in quite exceptional ways; very junior people and front line staff would stand up and present so clearly and persuasively about extremely complex issues … you would have thought you were listening to the most polished presentation from a top-tier strategy firm.

Show Your Staff Really Powerful Ways Of Thinking And They Can Produce Exceptional Results.

Alex made the point – “I don’t know what we are doing to these people on the team – but we seem to be doing something to them.”

So Alex then started to investigate the whole topic of accelerated learning and thinking and went to the US and the UK to meet with some of the leaders in the field. That led to research where we discovered that accidentally, many of the processes and techniques we already were using when we worked with staff, encapsulated the principles of accelerated learning.

So then we refined and codified these simple principles into the way that we do things – we call it ‘EngineeredThinking™’ and we built them formally into the way we worked with our clients. Over the decade, we have continued to refine and test them and now they are embedded into every aspect of TOP. The Desired Outcomes process and the Outcomes Dependency Roadmap in particular illustrate the power of the tools.

We found that these principles to be incredibly “sticky”. One person – who attended a one day workshop we presented in 2005 – wrote to us over 8 years later to say he could still remember every thing he learnt that day and what was more important, he was still using it!

We proved – that if you show your staff really powerful ways of thinking, they can and do produce exceptional results.

Where Did You Start With The Development Of TOP?

The development was dictated by the client assignments we were doing – it started with IT Strategy and the Business Simplification and then progressed incrementally from there.

The development of the IT Strategy Module illustrates how we brought different thinking to the orthodox approaches

As I came from a business strategy background with BCG, but with an IT knowledge base, my approach to IT Strategy was very different to the orthodox IT Plans that were being done when I was at Andersen Consulting.

My approach was to spend the first weeks determining what made the company tick, how it made its money, where its competitive advantage lay, and what competitive opportunities could exist. I wanted to ensure I thoroughly understood the business before I looked at what systems and technology were needed to support and enable the business strategy.

Instead of aligning the IT strategy to the business plan which had too short a time horizon – I went to back the drivers of the business strategy.

And it worked. For example we did an IT strategy for a Utility that identified the total IT cost to support the business strategy and operations at $19.6 million with benefits of $54 million.

A direct comparable utility (a competitor) coincidentally used mainstream consultancy to define their IT strategy. Their strategy proposal quantified the required IT investment at $85 million with $120 million in benefits.

So our strategy gave a 2.5 times return versus a more than four times more expensive strategy expected to deliver just a 1.5 return. And our benefits were “banked”.

These Were TOP Tools That You Used?

This was in the early days and most of the TOP tools were not yet formally documented such that others could use them.

The second TOP product we created was ‘Business Simplification’. This is designed to enable real business reengineering – the way that Michael Hammer has visualized.

Michael Hammer had ‘invented’ business reengineering in 1989 but organizations struggled with its practical implementation. But the idea appealed to me especially with my O&M background.

The development of Business Simplification started during the period when I was a Director of Boston Consulting Group’s ‘Activity Based Analysis’ practice – a numbers-based approach to reengineering. I was in charge of the practice, but I was not that happy with the approach that we were using. It seemed to “swat flies and miss the elephants”. So while I was working on a client assignment at BCG on which we were applying ABA, I invented my own reengineering process and ran it alongside the official ABA assignment.

My approach delivered over three times the savings in the same areas at the same time. The ABA exercise identified $2.3 million in savings, my unofficial team identified $7.8 million in savings. We also identified that a fraud was occurring in one area of the business.

Your Approach Delivered Three Times The Result?

Exceptional Results Is The Norm For TOP

Generating three times the results of orthodox approaches is the norm for TOP.

Let me give you another example … where we took a whole organization and simplified it in less than 100 days. This was a particularly challenging task as the organization was a newly created amalgamation of 6 different firms, so there were at least six ways of doing everything.

Despite that, we managed to eliminate 66% of the identified process steps, even though, as we eliminated process steps, we were also adding back missing process steps – that ones that improved the service to customers. For that organization, we streamlined the business, the subsequent IT systems project and the resultant operations. It was subsequently benchmarked by UMS as in the top 10% worldwide for performance and customer service.

Other TOP tools, techniques and processes followed over the years as we worked with clients and the need to develop them arose. Each tool was developed and proven in the field, and then refined in further use. So each tool is proven and practical.

You Have Said That You Wanted Totally Optimized Projects To Be Different Type Of Consultancy?

We Set Out To Do Things Differently

When I was at the bank I was accountable for buying all consulting services—on the basis as I had been a consultant, “it took one to know one”. I therefore experienced just about all of the mainstream big consulting firms and their approaches and results.

In case you don’t know, the mainstream firms rely on having the experts – the partners – who leverage a team of junior consultants, often only a few years out of their degrees and with little real business experience. Often you would only see the partner at the kickoff meeting and the final presentation.

I vowed I didn’t want to operate like that.

Instead … I wanted a model was that we would only have outstanding senior people; who had “been there done that”, who had had to make budget; ship product; deliver results.

These would be the people that worked with clients and who would coach to support the clients. To get the leverage needed we would use the client’s staff. We don’t believe in bringing an army of consultants in. It’s one of the things that clients like. In fact one of our clients described us as the “anti-consultant consultants”.

Our Delivery Partners are very senior, very respected, street-smart and have “cred” with both the leadership team and also the staff. We absolutely wan to see our clients get outstanding results 

It was always my intention to teach our tools to our client’s staff and we did this from day-1. I found we could get far better results using ‘capability transfer’ – working with in-house staff as we undertake the assignment step by step by step. The staff know the business and their involvement builds their understanding and ownership of the results. That means you don’t get resistance to change.

But this decision – to train and equip the in-house staff – required a lot more work as we documented the TOP materials … because we had to make them easy to use by anyone, even those who had never done it before.

This decision alone probably increased the documentation and training effort fourfold. It has taken a long time but we’ve eventually got there.

In around 2008 I pretty much ceased doing consulting assignments, to concentrate primarily on the development and marketing of the TOP materials and IP.

And What Was The Response?

It has been a slow and steady journey.

We describe TOP as the answer to the business’ poor project performance experience. But, as I mentioned earlier, if you speak to business managers, the language they have largely adopted is the projects “time and cost view” and so we have to get the message across that poor project results can’t be fixed by “project managing better”. A project manager cannot create value in a project that does not have a clear value proposition, no matter how well it is “project managed”

The problem is that while you can explain to business managers that TOP will reduce the risks and increase the results, these are organizational benefits, but often, there is little personal cost in the status quo. If a project fails, often the original sponsor has already moved on and so is largely unaffected by the failure at the personal level.

So we had to find another way to get their attention.

But You Were Getting Recognition?

Yes – in interesting ways. I have been writing an email newsletter almost since the dawn of the Internet and that seems to get around. Our materials have ended up in all sorts of sites around the web including quite a few government websites – even translated into Finnish.

Some years ago, one of our clients took our material to Harvard Business School where he was attending a business leaders course and asked Prof James McKinney for his opinion of our materials and approach. He said then, nearly two decades ago, that we were “world class” and “three to five years ahead of the competition.”

In 2004 we were selected as a finalist for the Australian Information Industry Association’s “Outstanding product innovation” award.

In 2011 Gartner honoured us in their annual “Cool Vendors” awards. They described us as “an innovative game changer” – which was nice feedback.

And subsequently we have received recognition from Cranfield School of Management in the UK and the US Research Board for leadership in our field.

This all helps by giving us external validation for our approaches, but we still a way to go to change the accepted mindset on projects and value.

How Do You Change The Mindset About Projects?

Change The Conversation Away From ‘Projects’

When I was at Boston Consulting Group (prior to setting TOP up) I ran and was involved in a series of worldwide studies to see where the value went on projects.

Everyone starts projects with high hopes and expectations determined that “it will different this time” and then too often end up scrambling to get something/anything over the line to declare the project “completed”.

So what happens in between – especially to the business value?

We all know that typically, the costs go up and the value goes down. In the research, we sought to discover what the drivers and destroyers of value are. We identified a series of visible waste drivers, the causes of both extra costs and value loss on projects. When we quantified them, the value loss figures were frightening – a 60% increase in costs coupled with a 60% reduction in value.

These Value Loss Drivers Were Across The Portfolio

Some projects do very well whereas others fail completely. Many will fall in-between often losing more value than they deliver. The 60% figures were measured across a portfolio of projects over four years. So these figures not only took into account the costs of delivery but also the costs of operation and enhancement and maintenance and workarounds.

But while these figures are significant they are only part of the story. I also proved Nicholas Carr’s point ten years before he made it.

“IT Doesn’t Matter”?

We found that “like organizations in the same industry” could install the exactly same technology and yet deliver vastly different results. As Nicholas Carr said 10 years later, the technology didn’t matter.

What he didn’t then say, but which I discovered through the research, was that it was an organization’s capability to leverage the technology made all the difference.

This was an absolutely critical insight.

What do you mean by ‘capability’?

Capability Is An Organizational Attribute

Only organizations can be ‘capable’. I know many talk of people having capabilities – but this is wrong. Individuals can have competencies but not capabilities.

This differentiation is important as, with all the talk of individuals having capability, there is no word left to discuss an organization’s capabilities.

Every organization is set up with a few specific capabilities. Manufacturers need to be capable in manufacturing and logistics. Retailers need to be capable in merchandising and customer service. Utilities need to be capable of asset management and billing. And so on.

But every organization needs to be capable in delivering the business value available from their strategies and projects as this determines their capability to control their future.

I call this particular capability the organization’s ‘value delivery capability’.

Why Is ‘Capability’ Important? Is It Another Maturity Model?

Capability Is Not "Maturity"

Your capability is critically important to getting results but no, it is not a maturity model.

Initially our BCG research we just found different results from different investments. Then I went back to discover why like organizations implementing like investments were delivering vastly different results. This is when I identified that the results organizations generated from their project portfolios correlated to their level of value delivery capability. Highly capable organizations consistently generated much higher results than low-capable organizations. The differences were threefold or more – not marginal differences in results.

Secondly, we discovered that the capability model was NOT a maturity model that is – each level builds on the previous one. We discovered that there is a fundamental break point between levels 3 and 4 (on the 5 level capability scale) where the language, tools and result measures change from being orthodox technical/project/cost focused to become strategy/business/value focused.

That means that Capability level 4 is not an extension or more mature version of level 3, but a wholly different way of thinking about, approaching and delivering strategy and projects. Level 4 is where TOP will take you.

The TOP Capability Model Does Not Align To The Orthodox Maturity Frameworks

The project-driven maturity frameworks publicized by the project management organizations – like OGC and PMI – define maturity models that can get you to the top of the capability level 3 in our 3+2 Capability Model.

But to get to the higher-return levels of 4 and 5 you have to replace your project thinking with business thinking. You have to break away from the orthodox thinking, approaches and frameworks.

The 3+2 Capability Model Shows The Shift In Mindset Needed To Outperform.

It allowed us to explain why different organizations generated different results from essentially the same technology.

For example, we enabled one client to deliver their ERP for under $11 million and reap all of the available benefits. Their nearest competitor, using orthodox approaches, took twice as long and spent $52 million to deliver a lessor result and few of the available benefits.

The difference between the two firms was not the technology used but the business leadership and value orientation which directed the use. The organization using TOP principles and approaches focused on strategy and investment value delivered; the other, using a major brand-name consultancy and orthodox project deliver approaches, did not..

What About Project Waste?

People (And Organisations) Move Away From Pain Points Faster Than They Move Towards Pleasure.

In persuading organizations about the benefits of TOP, we focus on the exponential increase in business financial returns you could generate using the TOP business based tools – that take you to capability level 4.

But many business managers simply want to get their projects finished with some modicum of success and not be embarrassed.

So although we focus on value, we also emphasise that the pain point of waste can be avoided – not only the waste of money, time and effort on projects but also the ongoing time, money and effort wasted through the delivery of poor, inefficient and complex business results.

We have been identifying the drivers of hidden, invisible waste for years through our consulting work, but now I brought all these together so that people can easily see all the sources of waste and how to avoid them

Examples Of ‘Invisible’ Waste Are Many

For example:

  • Projects that are already set up to fail being approved at the business case stage. They unnecessarily incur more costs and then fail later.
  • Projects that are condemned to completion – even though they are no longer viable, relevant or even able to be delivered successfully. They struggle on to deliver ‘something’ using funds that could have been better allocated to another project investment.
  • Missed benefits that are never identified but could be delivered for the same cost and effort. Totally wasted value.
  • And so on.

We found that the majority of the drivers of waste – 15 of 22 in fact – are ‘invisible’. This explains why business management is not concerned enough with the current level of waste – they can only see the obvious and visible waste – over time, over budget and the like.

When you now add in all the sources of the invisible waste, particularly the impact of missed opportunities on ongoing operations, you can start to see the size, scale and seriousness of the problem.

For example, one organization allowed a project to increase in cost from $13 million to $56 million yet when implemented it actually rendered the organization worse off than before the project was delivered. Now that is an example of extreme waste and opportunity loss, but many firms have had a project like that in the past few years. This is a significant but not unique example of waste that the orthodox approaches allow. This organization had lots of external support – and it still failed.

Importantly, the orthodox approaches do not address these invisible drivers of waste. In fact some aspects of orthodox approaches actually reinforce and perpetuate them.

Where Did The Name “Totally Optimized Projects” Come From?

When I left the Boston Consulting Group in 1993, I thought of calling my company, ‘The CIO Forum” with the idea of making CIOs heroes by integrating them into the business to deliver exceptional results. Strangely, this idea went down like a lead balloon with CIOs. But then I realised that we were about building organizations’ capability to deliver value, so I called the company, “Capability Management” – a name we retained until we shifted from consulting to enabling.

Throughout this time we were working on how to clearly convey our messages about what we did and why we were different. And, in 2010 we went to a Joel Roberts bootcamp. Joel is a former, primetime, KABC radio talk show host in the #1 radio market in the world – Los Angeles and probably the best communications guy in the world. When we started to explain what we did, his eyes glazed over. But, a few weeks later he rang us and said, “I have a name for your company – Totally Optimized Projects.”

That sums it up – TOP.

TOP Results From TOP Partners Enabled By TOP Expertise And TOP Thinking

IT explained what we do – we equip organizations to realize the maximum value for least cost and time; to consistently deliver totally optimized projects.

So your message is about top results from projects?

It all comes together into what we describe as “The TOP 5%”:

  • Few organizations ARE highly capable i.e. at capability levels 4 or 5; only about 5% of organizations are at this level.
  • These organizations consistently generate returns from their project investments which are at least three times those attained by the 95% of organizations at lower levels of capability. These organizations are creating and sustaining a major competitive advantage.
  • The TOP tools, techniques and processes are designed to move organizations directly to capability level 4 – into this top 5% tier.
  • What the TOP tools do, and are specifically designed to do, is to equip organizations to manage and eliminate both the visible and invisible drivers of waste. This allows them to consistently deliver the high level of results.

This explains why TOP delivered such extraordinary results.

We not only visibly increase the value but also eliminate the invisible waste. This is why we can take a project from $0 to $40 million in benefits, at the same time reducing the delivery cost from $82 million to $35 million with all of the benefits.

Whereas orthodoxy project methodologies focus on managing the costs, hoping for the value, and ignoring the invisible drivers of waste — TOP focuses on delivering the value, optimizing the costs of delivery and eliminating the drivers of waste.

That’s Why We Challenge And Need To Continue To Challenge The Orthodox Views On Projects.