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Judging Project Success from Front End Outcomes

By Gary Kennedy, P. Eng., PMP (2023-01-09, R2024-01-02)

An interesting topic for analysis is the importance of the Front End activities of a project. This work is often called FEL (Front End Loading) or FEP (Front End Planning, ref CII - Construction Industry Institute), or other early stage classifications, like FEED. The FEL stages are typically the 3 or 4 stages preceding Sanction and the Detail Design stage.

Cancelled or Deferred Projects in one of the FEL Stages are usually NOT considered failures. These are usually considered worthwhile efforts! How so? Well...

  • These types of gate decisions (or even between gates) are usually a sign of SUCCESS of the diligent screening process for economic, social, financial, engineering, environmental, operational, safety, and other categories of feasibility/acceptability.

  • Costs expended during the Front End planning activities, including Concept Selection, Market Studies, Operational Cost Estimates, and other analysis, are relatively low; therefore, those FE periods are the intentionally opportune times to decide whether it's worthwhile for the project to continue as is, be deferred, recycled, or totally cancelled.

  • For organizations with multiple projects under consideration, the FEL efforts can help rank the priority of each project in the Program and Portfolio spectrums to fit within budgets for near and long term horizons. Perhaps the labour supply, markets, current economy, or other factors make deferral better than outright cancellation for some projects. Front End assessment is seldom just rate of return - there are likely criteria such as safety, environment, community, service life, expandability, regulatory, and other values to be reconciled when ranking projects in portfolios.

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