Harvey Maylor has worked with Saïd Business School since 2013 as a programme director in the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA), our programme for the leaders of the UK government’s 150 most significant projects. In April 2017, he joined the faculty as Senior Fellow in Management Practice, and in April 2018 was awarded the title of Associate Professor. Prior to working with MPLA, Harvey was the Founding Director of the International Centre for Programme Management at Cranfield University, delivering a US$4M portfolio of research and development activities over five years, and founding Cranfield’s MSc in Programme and Project Management. From 1993 to 1998 he was a lecturer at Cardiff Business School, and from 1999 to 2006 at University of Bath.
In addition, Harvey has taught and consulted for global firms (full-time 2013-2017) and still spends part of his time in this arena. His approach combines teaching, research and practice, and continuously seeking innovations that might solve some of the big problems he has encountered in his work. In doing so, Harvey is minded that our research can have the effect of normalising practices that are not necessarily effective, as the bulk of projects under-perform. For this reason, it is imperative that the opportunity is taken to highlight both current great practice, as well as provide thought leadership, drawing ideas from multiple domains to generate new or reconfigured alternatives for the future.
The focus of Harvey’s attention is major projects: those projects of sufficient scale or importance that their achievement represents a significant endeavour for the organisations that are undertaking them. This significance could be in terms of either budgetary scale, the level of risk encountered or the complexity of the interaction of stakeholder groups. This includes both transformation and infrastructure projects.
Harvey’s subject home is Operations Management; he is concerned with systems of work, and in particular the interface between formal systems and behaviours. Major projects are an especially rich context for the study of such systems. His interests are not limited to what has conventionally been called ‘project management’, and span an eclectic mixture of contexts and perspectives. Further details are under the ‘research’ tab.
Professional organisation memberships
Academy of Management, British Academy of Management, European Operations Management Association (board member 2000-2003), Project Management Institute, and the Association for Project Management.
All of the research I have been engaged in, begins with a practitioner or organisational problem. My current research projects exist either to understand better an organisational problem, (e.g. complexity, lean, capabilities, delivery by design) or to develop the foundations for this in the future (ambidexterity, What do major project leaders do?). Each of these is expanded further below.
Whilst lean is well established in repetitive operations, it has found less application in projects. Our initial work, entitled ‘From predict and provide to predict and prevent’ has focused on developing cases where lean principles could be applied, have shown that there is significant potential for lean to be applied at major project, systems and task levels. The next phase of the work is to focus on projects that are delivering ahead of expectations, to build a repository of approaches, organisational designs, routines and capabilities, that are associated with this high performance.
Specifically the lived experience of leaders (in both projects and repetitive operations) of the complexities that they face, or ‘what makes projects complex to manage?’ This body of work extends over the past 12 years, and includes definitional work leading to the structural, socio-political and emergent framework for complexities. This has led to projects leaders being able to understand the complexities of projects and subsequently to putting in place actions to reduce those complexities. The final part of this work is investigating the response of project leaders to complexities – moving on from simplistic ‘one size fits all’ responses.
How do organisations, major projects and individuals gain and lose the capability to deliver projects? This began with observing how difficult it was for organisations to acquire capability, but how quickly it could be lost. The work progressed to show those routines or practices that were associated with gain and loss. The results have included a tool for the audit of firms in terms of their project capabilities, and more recently, the compilation of a guide into developing one of those – capabilities - transformational capability in organisations.
A perennial phrase used in the analysis of the challenges faced by project leaders, is that many of the issues they face cannot be resolved at the level of the project; they are organisational level issues. So, the question is then, what are the implications for organisations? Our approach uses the ideas of Organisational Design as a basis for considering how organisations can create the context in which excellence in project delivery is more likely.
Underpinning much of the literature on the leadership of major projects, is the assumption that the models used for permanent organisations, are appropriate for temporary organisations or projects. Indeed, when explored further, the key question of ‘what do major project leaders do?’ has not been explicitly addressed. This stream of work aims to address this question.
Consideration of the knowledge capital of projects and organisations, has proved to be a highly effective approach for analysing problems. Replacing the old dualism of explore and exploit in knowledge terms, with a more nuanced view where these co-exist, has been a rich stream of research.
Working with project leaders over a number of years, it was evident that the complexity of the tasks they were attempting to achieve, was increasing. Extended supply chains, changing legislation, greater diversity of stakeholder groups, and higher levels of scrutiny, are just some of the causes. The result in performance terms for major projects is perennially low success rates. Yet the use of the project as a form of organisation to deliver work, is enduring, and some say even increasing.
The work started with a naïve question asked of hundreds of project leaders: what makes your project complex to manage? The results, combined with systematic literature review, led to the structural, socio-political and emergent framework – the first both comprehensive and comprehensible framework for assessing subjective complexities. This enabled understanding of the terrain of complexities in which project leaders were working. As part of the research projects around this topic, many workshops were conducted with project leaders. Armed with this understanding, it was noticed that these same leaders began to question why the projects were so complex to manage. Indeed, some even began what is now known as the second stage of the active complexity management approach: reduction. This approach has been included as part of teaching courses for several years is now in use in a number of organisations, including Airbus. It is generating considerable benefits, particularly at the outset of projects, when the organisational designs in particular, can be influenced.
The brief for the work carried out with HP was to generate improved capabilities for the organisation. Specifically, it required that project capabilities could add to the competitive advantage of the firm’s offerings. With a significant part of their profitability reliant on the successful delivery of projects, the firm urgently needed new approaches that would go beyond the conventional practices, tools and techniques, associated with project and programme management. By taking an Operations Strategy view of the organisation, a full suite of approaches was developed under the banner of AdvantageHP. The realisation of value for the organisation began with an assessment of their competitive maturity. This necessitated developing a new model for such an assessment, which went beyond the traditional conformance models, e.g. ITIL and CMMI. Gaps identified in the assessment, went through a prioritisation tool to identify areas requiring specific actions from business leaders, in terms of competitive focus, alignment and the configuration of resources needed.
Projects routinely run late, over-budget and otherwise don’t deliver against promises. Much research has focused on identifying the causes of such problems. However, just fixing the problems is not going to be successful if the underlying approach is the limiting factor on performance. Rethinking the underlying approach was an avenue that appeared to warrant further investigation. Combining the principles of Lean (elimination of waste, materials and information flow), Theory of Constraints (bottlenecks), some elements of Agile (evolving work schedule), with rigorous application of project planning provided a totally different landscape of delivery. The APT approach was originally trialled in Transport for London from 2009 onwards, and immediately delivered a £19M construction project early, under-budget and with accounts closed six days after works completion. Subsequent applications gained similar results. APT was eventually mandated as the approach for working with contractors in TfL’s Surface Transport directorate.
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