As project manager, we offer a professional service to help organization successfully completing projects and thus helping organizations achieve their objectives. Well, at least, we hope so. Let’s hope we do not do successfully do projects that do not help organizations!
Successful project managers often have a history of successful projects. And we all want to be successful, and work hard at being successful. Yet, we often hear that the rate of success in projects is relatively low. And everybody feels that this rate of success is much lower than their own rate of success.
How is that? What is happening here?
Many experts are analyzing failed projects, and trying to find what part (or parts) of project management was not well done. The objective of this analysis is to find lessons learned, and improve results for future projects, so that next time the success rate will be better. Yet, we remain stuck with the same bad statistics, and the rate of success does not seem to be getting any better.
How come? What is really happening here?
Yes, it does happen that a project was not well-managed, that sponsors did not play their role correctly, that business requirements were not well-defined, that stakeholders’ engagement was incomplete, etc… But if all of this would explain the rate of failure, and would really be the root cause, it would be very easy to improve the success of project management. But all these analysis does not always seem to help.
So, the experts analyze even more…
A consultant specialized in communication will tell you it is a lack of communication.
A consultant specialized in planning will tell you it is a lack of project planning and weaknesses in the work breakdown structure
A consultant specialized in accounting will tell you it is weak financial management of the project
A consultant specialized in business requirements will tell you that the requirements were not enough defined.
And none of these consultants will tell you that their field of specialization may not be the solution, and will try to convince you that there’s no such thing as too much communication, too much planning, too much financial management, etc…
Can it be that there’s something else happening?
How about if we just have a definition of success that is just too rigid? Maybe our definition of success is the problem. We now live in a fast changing environment. Change is no longer the unusual context, that happens between one “stable context” and another “stable context”. While there are books and theory out there on change management, I think the abnormal context that should be managed is status quo. We have to get used to change, and consider that it is status quo that is dangerous and should be managed with special care. So I hope one day somebody will understand the profound implication of this and write a book called “Status Quo Management”…
Too many are still stuck in a vision of the world that is static, slow changing and very predictable. We now live in an environment with fast
- change in knowledge
- change in technology
- change in business and social environment.
Often, it may be that the project did not successfully deliver what was initially planned. It may have delivered successfully something else, of equal of even higher benefits to the organization.
When a project does not exactly deliver what was planned, I’d like to know if:
- the project is just a pure failure
- part of the work was used to fuel another initiative, which would not have been possible without the first “failed” project.
- project definition actually changed during the process to morph into something more useful, or to better adapt to a change in the environment which happened during the life of the project.
I think the current analysis on project success may simplify things too much, maybe to the point of being misleading. We should not ignore the value of the impact on other projects. We should also not ignore a modified definition of success.
Michel Dion, PMP, CPA
Founder and Developer of Project-Aria
Discover my book:
Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve Better Results in a Dynamic World