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7 Habits of Highly Effective Projects – Habit 1 “Be Proactive”

“Best in Class” facility owners deeply understand that a great habit is formed when combined knowledge, skills, and desire come together.

According to research from McKinsey & Company, 98% of projects suffer cost overruns of more than 30% and 77% are at least 40% late. In another one conducted by Accenture, less than one-third (of capital projects) adhere to approved budgets (within 25 percent) and less than one-fifth of respondents report being within 10 percent of costs.

This brings us to our main question: With the risk of so many pitfalls, how is it that so many teams are able not only to succeed; but to excel? What do they have in common?

In the following weeks we will share 7 habits that highly effective teams have in common, following basic and easy to implement principles:

  • Knowledge: What to, why to
  • Skills: How to
  • Desire: Want to

Today we will start with Habit 1: Being proactive.

One of the most valuable habits of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Projects is to become proactive. Simply put, to become proactive, one must move from being reactive. However, not everyone is even aware that they are one or the other.


  • Are my projects consistently over budget?
  • Are my projects consistently late?
  • Does my unofficial job description include “Fire Fighter” or “Problem Solver”?
  • Do I regularly get e-mails marked “urgent” or written with CAPITAL LETTERS?
  • Do I start the day with great intentions only to get derailed by 10 AM?
  • Do I utilize construction management software?


  • Do most of your project performance reports focus on last month’s data?
  • Are there high volumes of RFIs?
  • Do I get surprised by change orders?
  • Do I use contingency funds early and often?


Best-in-class owners focus efforts on becoming proactive. They work in a time management quadrant that emphasizes activities that are important but not urgent. Urgent and important activities are a staple of organizations that are constantly in a fire-fighting mode. They are often tasks and activities that are someone else’s responsibilities but given to you to manage. You can often spot these as action items in your court but have a deadline being driven by someone other than you.

To get to the promised land of working on important but not urgent items, you have to first complete the urgent and important activities. Once best-in-class owners have completed as many of those as possible, they begin to look at forward-looking measurements that put proactive action items on the table. For example, Owners with the “Proactive Habit” review:

  • Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  • Estimate at Completion (EAC)
  • Budget at Completion (BAC)
  • Project Risks
  • Contingency Utilization
  • 2-week Look Ahead
  • Cash flow Forecast
  • Workflow Aging & Cycle Time

They also ensure there is adequate time for leadership activities that are critical to communication and team dynamics. They keep a careful eye on the culture of the project team and look for signs of defensive behaviors, CYA, and overutilization of e-mail. They create time “above the project” in areas including:

  • Capital program vision & strategy communication
  • Training and development
  • Talent management
  • New talent recruiting
  • New employee on-boarding

I recently met with an owner in the higher education marketplace who was embarking on an audacious capital program. They had recently received a large grant that would more than triple their capital program. To take on this challenge, they had to find a way to more than double the size of their organization while increasing productivity and process adherence. If they resigned themselves to business as usual, they would have quickly found themselves being reactive to everything and their capital program would spin out of control.

What they did instead was to hold themselves to becoming the proactive, process-driven organization they knew they could be. They went out and hired an exceptional leader who had deep, proven experience in construction management software. They hired an external consulting firm to help identify process gaps they may have missed. They shifted program performance KPIs to include forward-looking metrics and they augmented project manager’s time with project engineers and project administrators so a PM could place more of their time into the leadership functions of the projects.

What I learned from this conversation is that it is doable. Owners do not have to be resigned to always being in fire-fighting mode on their projects. When you have a burning desire (an increase in projects), bring in the knowledge (gap assessment), and the skills (experienced leadership), you can build game-changing habits that can catapult you to become best-in-class.

The conversation, however, is just getting started.

Next we will cover our second habit: Forecast completion.

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about what highly effective construction teams do regularly to deliver the best in class projects and programs!