Why Good Execution is Not Enough



By Justin D. Jacobsen

MBP Corporation
Virginia, USA


Chris D. McLuckie

MBP Corporation
North Carolina, USA


Project metrics across multiple industries continue to show a performance gap between baseline expectations actual results. Practitioners should persist in seeking innovative solutions to this performance gap, rather than accepting established paradigms and practices, which routinely result in cost and schedule overruns. One such paradigm is the view each project as a unique endeavor, unrelated to other similar production processes. Relating project execution to other production processes allows observation of similarities in the impacts of variation on output delivery. Recognizing this impact and using tools to mitigate the effects is a major step in closing the performance gap. One such tool is a renewed commitment to implementation of risk management, including quantitative risk analysis. We can also borrow approaches from other verticals, including buffering and root-cause variation mitigation.


It is a generally accepted observation within project management as a profession, as well as an experience from project sponsors in general, that we have a problem with project execution. The assertion that projects are delivered late and over budget is rarely, if ever, contested. One study by McKinsey & Company indicates that large construction projects “take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget.” (Agarwal, et al., 2016) Construction as an industry is one of the more deterministic industry verticals, with systems and components that are generally well understood. One would expect this phenomenon to be even more acute in industry verticals with more iterative and undefined processes, such as software or technology development. There are many theories surrounding the cause of this deficient performance, but there has never been a definitive solution implemented.

There appears to be two distinct issues wrapped up in the assumption that projects are not performing according to plan. The first is a framing issue. What constitutes effective on time, within budget performance? What is the validity of the baseline budget and associated budgets? If we are to measure project performance against an established baseline, we should be sure that the baseline is valid and accounts for the totality of project scope and risk impacts. The second is an execution performance issue. Is the execution of project activities aligning with the planned values in an effective manner? If the project baseline plan is valid and accurate, well executed activities that start on time and finish within budget should then result in a well-executed project.

Project management as a discipline is filled with numerous intelligent and creative practitioners. Why is it, with all the collective talent and subsequent effort to deliver high-performing projects, we still experience this divergence of results from expectations? Within this paper we will explore one of the causes of this performance diversion and propose mitigation measures that will better align expectations with actual performance.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the University of Maryland 2021 Virtual Project Management Symposium in April.  It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Jacobsen, J. D., McLuckie, C. D. (2021). Why Good Execution is Not Enough; presented at the University of Maryland 2021 Virtual Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in April 2021; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/pmwj107-Jul2021-Jacobsen-McLuckie-why-good-execution-is-not-enough.pdf

About the Authors

Justin D. Jacobsen

Fairfax, Virginia, USA


Justin Jacobsen has more than twenty years of operational supervision experience with twelve years of program management responsibility delivering successively larger projects as part of diverse, multi-functional project teams. His experience covers a broad range of capital project types from upstream oil and gas programs to international real estate development, to domestic mixed-use public-private projects, among others. Mr. Jacobsen serves as Director of Innovation Development for MBP Corporation and is currently engaged company-wide working in the virtual environment from a home base in Raleigh, North Carolina. He leads MBP’s innovation program which focuses on identifying, researching, testing, and implementing new technology and innovative process solutions used to deliver customized construction management and owner’s representative services. His interaction with a broad range of clients, MBP service leaders, construction teams, and the continual surveying of the technology market enables new capabilities to be validated and implemented as they become available in the market. Mr. Jacobsen has championed our implementation of Lean Construction, Target Value Delivery, continuous estimating, pull planning and other tools and techniques uses across our service lines.


Chris D. McLuckie

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA


Chris McLuckie has more than 28 years of experience managing construction projects from pre-design through project closeout as both agency construction manager and general contractor. His approach focuses on teamwork and bringing the right people together to facilitate the best solutions. He is an accomplished public speaker with an aptitude for client relationships and staff development. Mr. McLuckie’s focus is on strategic planning, organizational leadership, and quality control. As an Area Manager for MBP Corporation, he is responsible for managing workflow and utilization of team members throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.