Are you having fun yet? I have recently been moderating a discussion about management, leadership, and team building in a project and program environment. Let me share a few of the comments recorded so far. On the topic of what makes for project success—is fulfilling the triple constraints enough?—I provided a high level summary view that almost all the key factors identified have a common factor in being about PEOPLE. People do matter. Projects typically do not fail or succeed because of technical factors or because we can’t get electrons travelling faster than the speed of light; they fail or succeed depending on how well people work together. When we lose sight of the importance of people issues, such as clarity of purpose, effective and efficient communications, and management support, then we are doomed to struggle. Engaged people find ways to work through all problems. Our challenge as leaders is to create environments for people to do their best work.
One person said, “While fulfillment of the triple constraints may be the most important factor in evaluating the success of the project, it is not sufficient in defining project success. For example, a project can be delivered on time and under budget, but the team may have experienced excessive pressure and discord while accomplishing this goal. If valuable team members choose to leave the organization as a result of their negative experience, the project is not a success. So the criteria for evaluating project success are fulfillment of the triple constraint AND a positive experience for the team members involved.”
In addition to project performance and experience, let me add an objective for learning. Regardless of any other outcome, a project may provide invaluable learnings, such as technology innovation, serendipitous accidents, what not to do again, people to avoid,…. I’m suggesting we may need to redefine “failure.” I believe the only real failure is a failure to learn. Many organizations avoid this lesson because people are so intent on looking good, versus learning faster than their competitors.
Meeting the triple constraints is just a starting point. Sometimes you can be right on scope, schedule, and resources, and still fail to be successful, perhaps because the market changed, or a competitor outdid you, or a client changed its mind. You could also miss on all constraints but still have a successful project when viewed over time, as witness the Sydney Opera House.
My suggestion as overarching criteria for project success is to check with key stakeholders and ask for their definitions of success. Pin them down to one key area each. You may get some surprising replies like, “Don’t embarrass me.” “Keep out of the newspaper.” “Just get something finished.” Integrate the replies and work to make that happen. Having this dialog early in the project life cycle provides the project manager and team with clear marching orders.
On the topic of organization, there is no one structure that fits all situations nor is there ever a perfect organization. There will always be trade-offs and differences of opinion about how to structure the organization for the tasks ahead. Much of the literature in this area tries to help pick an optimum structure depending on the situation. When pressed to suggest what the organization needs to do, most people opined to have more flexibility within their organizations; this is not uncommon. Many organizations are still stuck in archaic structures. As students, we are well served by bringing visibility to alternative approaches and being open to experimentation. Trying new approaches is highly dependent on enlightened leadership and a willingness to be pioneers.
As a long time proponent of project, program, and portfolio management, I am biased towards a project-based organization (PBO). I believe adopting a whole hearted approach focused on projects would serve most situations much better than current approaches. However, wide scale adoption of PBOs is still slow in coming.
One piece of advice I strongly advocate as a take-away from these discussions is to ensure that the organizational structure not get in the way of doing projects. Setting people up in functional silos, rigid chains of command, excessive reports, and ineffective metrics are examples of potential obstacles. By exerting a concerted effort to get others to recognize the value of projects and establish priorities for project work, project leaders and their teams can exercise their initiative and find a way through the structure to get their work done. Clarity of vision, effective processes, well defined roles and responsibilities, the right people assigned to tasks—these are elements that lead to optimized results.
Included in everything related to success–have FUN on your projects, put fun on the agenda. Having fun as an objective is an antidote to much else that ails us and is a good precursor to success.
Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy, www.englundpmc.com