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The Importance of Understanding Project Environment and Context

Project Environment and Context

Most projects clearly define their objectives, work scope, budget, and schedule but, all too often, the environment and context in which the project exists is neither fully understood nor clearly defined. This is a major source of risk when it comes to project management and execution.

While having a clearly defined set of objectives, work scope, budget, and schedule is essential to being able to plan, implement, and control a project, if the project management team do not fully understand their project environment and context, the project will, in all likelihood, be doomed to failure. This is because project environment and context drives performance as much as, if not more than, a clearly defined work scope, budget, or schedule.

No two projects are the same, even if their objectives and work scope are. This is because even projects with identical objectives and work scopes will inevitably be executed in different environments. As such, the environmental factors are often the things that determine the success or failure of a project.

When evaluating the environmental and contextual shaping factors that differentiate one project from the next, it is important to consider the following:

  • Where is the geographical location of the project? – This will help identify potential project execution constraints and risk sources, such as:
    • Local weather/climate extremes
    • Geo-technical and topographical issues
    • Site access constraints
    • Utilities and local service availability
    • Environmental sensitivities
    • Human and material resource availability
  • What is the political environment in which the project exists? – This will dictate how the project management team may need to engage with their stakeholders, such as:
    • Dealing with bribery and corruption issues
    • Managing differences between local and national policies
    • Adapting to sudden changes in political power or influence
    • Resolving conflicts between differing political factions
  • How will local regulatory and legal requirements affect the project? – This may impact project execution performance by placing conditions on certain parameters, such as:
    • Prioritisation of standards
    • Local content requirements
    • Adherence to site-specific and local environmental regulations
    • Adherence to corporate Codes of Conduct
    • Restrictions on human and material resource availability
  • What is the cultural and religious environment in which the project exists? – This will dictate how the project management team may need to adjust the project execution plan, by taking into account:
    • Personnel accommodation and work facilities
    • Local holidays and acceptable working hours
    • Restricted or protected areas
    • Security considerations and requirements
  • What technological tools, skills, and experience are available to the project? – Availability of technological know-how can affect the both the objectives and values of a project through its impact on:
    • Design complexity
    • Human resource availability
    • Speed and efficiency in project execution
    • Adherence to scope and standards
    • Reliability and operability of the end-product
    • Safety in project execution and operation
  • What are the market conditions in which the project exists? – Market conditions are always dynamic and, depending on the overriding economic environment, can be either beneficial or detrimental to the performance of a project. Varying market conditions may affect a project in the following ways:
    • Ability to finance the project
    • Human and material resource availability
    • Changes to project scope and/or standards
  • Who are the project stakeholders, what influence do they have, and who is controlling the project? – A project is inevitably affected by the influences exerted on it by its controlling organisation and other stakeholders. The extent of this influence is generally determined by the following stakeholder factors:
    • Experience
    • Culture
    • Style
    • Structure
    • Maturity
    • Risk Attitude
    • Interests and Priorities

These are just a few of the environmental and contextual shaping factors that need to be considered when developing a project management or execution plan. The importance of fully understanding project environment and context should never be underestimated, as this can help prevent even the most technically well-defined projects from falling into disarray.

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