Brexit lessons learned for running a project

Brexit – lessons you can learn for running your project

If the Brexit project plan had been followed, the United Kingdom should have left the European Union on the 29 March 2019.  This was the agreed date for the deliverable that had been published to all stakeholders.

For those PM Majik community members in the UK and Europe, you will be aware that this deadline was not met.  So, the project report is firmly reporting “Red” and, even worse, there appears to be no indication when the revised delivery date will be!

I think as project and change professionals we can all agree that this project is not being run very well.

All these recent events made me reflect on some important lessons that we can learn from Brexit so as to avoid mistakes in our projects.

Here are some of my observations so that you do not make the same mistakes on your project.

Problem Statement

When the referendum on the UK leaving Europe was held on the 23rd June 2016, the problem statement was not really known.

People may have thought they knew what it meant and what they were voting for.  The reality was it was not clear as the supposedly simple vote of whether to remain or leave the European Union (EU), meant different things to different people.

Observation: make sure you have fully understood and can clearly articulate the problem that needs to be resolved to all stakeholders.

Benefits

During the campaign ahead of the vote on the 23rd June, both the remain and leave campaigners were making a number of claims.  This was mainly about what would be the benefit(s) of either leaving or remaining.

One of the claims often mentioned is the “Brexit Bus” that had a huge slogan claiming “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead – vote leave”.

This huge slogan on the side of the bus probably did influence some voters to vote leave.

While the statement may have been technically true in the amount, implying that this would be used directly for the NHS maybe was not.

After the Leave Campaign won the vote, the cross leave party dropped this claim from their manifesto.

So, this can be seen as an example where a sponsor inflates or misrepresents benefits purely to get their business case approved and then after approval, they reduce the benefits.

Observation: always build business cases based on the factual data and what you honestly believe can be delivered.

Milestone Planning

Due to pressure, those who voted leave wanted to start the process as soon as possible after the vote.

This resulted in the UK Government to formally present a letter to the EU on the 29th March 2017.  What this did was set a 2-year time frame for when the UK would leave the EU.

It is very clear 2 year’s on that this date was set without fully understanding what needed to be done, the time it would take and, most importantly the risks in the form of not gaining the required support.

This is a very clear example of one of the worst things a project manager can do, setting a delivery date before sufficient planning has been completed.

Observation: do not be pressurised by your stakeholders, however demanding, to give a delivery date until you have been able to conduct sufficient planning.  If you do, you will probably let the stakeholders down much more in the long term with increased timelines and costs.

Stakeholder Management

Part of the reason why the Brexit process has been painful is that the important stakeholders have not been engaged and taken on the journey.

The point that the UK Government kept all of the discussions and negotiations private for so long gave way to frustration and concern meaning that Parliament forced the Government to provide the details.

This was far too late in the process given the pre-set delivery date of the 29th March 2019.

This lack of engagement caused resentment making it even more likely that any proposal would not be supported.

Observation: you must identify and engage your stakeholders and take them on the journey.

Summary

While BREXIT is truly a unique project, there are a number of important lessons that a project professional can learn.

Many are common sense but still easy to forget.

I would like to close to say that I am not representing views on the vote or Brexit, the article was hopefully a fun way to illustrate the problems that can be caused by making these mistakes on your project. I hope that everyone involved in the process both in the UK and EU can act with wisdom and find the right way forward to bring Brexit to a close.