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Best Practice Guide To Project Success
By Lee McCance

1. Question The Need For The Project
The quickest, cheapest and simplest way of improving your organisation’s levels of project success is to stop starting new projects. Question whether your new project is really required right now. If you aren’t going to do anything different between this new project and a previous project, chances are that this one will fail as well.

Instead plan a strategy for improving your project success rates. Once you have begun to implement some of the changes the start new projects. For the time being, stop projects failing by simply not starting any new ones.

2. Always Prototype Solutions
The use of prototypes will improve the rates of project success. From simple pictures and diagrams to functional working models, prototypes will improve the frequency, quality and quantity of stakeholder feedback into a project.

Train project members to storyboard user scenarios. Look to include a web developer in the plan to create basic mock-up application screens. One of the first deliverables in any project plan should be a form of prototype. Start getting stakeholder feedback as soon as possible.

The most effective teams, build prototypes, get feedback and then incorporate the feedback into the next set of prototypes. By providing stakeholders with this level of attention and focus leads to greater support. Individuals like to see their vision and ideas presented as a tangible entity rather than as a set of bullet points in a document.

3. Don’t Always Use Standard Templates For Documentation
Project documentation rarely gets properly read and fed back on. Stakeholders are too busy to read the amount of information that they are expected to read through and comment on. Invariable most will simply skim through large documents, read the executive summary and provide some high level feedback. The risk of this is that the Project Manager and team believe that they have got stakeholder buy-in whilst in reality they have just been lucky (unlucky?) because an area of potential contention has been missed by a stakeholder. Let the team document what is required against a set of prompts not rigid templates.

4. Make Sure Everyone Is Together
Where feasible make sure all of the project team are located in the same office. The quality and ease of communication flows directly affects the levels of project success.

Teams located in close proximity with their suppliers and other project members benefit because:

  • Face to face communication is proven to be the most effective form
  • It reduces the time of feedback loops
  • It builds stronger team relationships

5. Give Them Space
If you want a successful project then you need team members 100% focused on delivering. Put the somewhere where they can’t be distracted from usual e-mails and telephone calls. Ideally rent project space away from your offices. This prevents any distractions as well as encourages teams to focus on the task in hand.

Whilst stakeholders will have to travel to the project team it will ensure that once there they will devote their time to the project team’s needs.

6. Team Building
As the project sponsor make sure that you have an effective team working for you. Are they motivated to deliver the project? Do you know the team dynamics? Be prepared to change team members if the dynamics aren’t working. Also invest in team-building activities early in the project and on an ongoing basis.

7. Fail Quickly
Tom Peters advocates the merits of failing fast. Don’t drag out a project’s failure/ Instead fail with gusto and support the project team. Because you’ve failed quickly you still have time to make amends with a new project. This time you have learnt about the issues and problems that you will face. This greatly improves the chances of the project being a real success this time.

8. Measure Real Progress
As a project sponsor you shouldn’t be asking for weekly activity updates, risk updates and traffic-light reports. Your main priority is to ensure that the project team are producing real tangible value. Put in place value milestones (E.g. first product sold, first real customer feedback). Direct the team to focus on business value above and beyond anything else. Measure progress against these value milestones not just activities.

9. Don’t Audit Your Projects By Default
Project Audits cause project team large amounts of work. None of this work creates any value and is an unnecessary process for the project. Trust your team that they are managing the project budget and risks adequately. If you have concerns then ask the team (not just the project manager) questions until your concerns go away.

10. Brand The Project
Projects should have their own identity and brand that is recognisable across the organisation. Encourage team members to be creative with project names and branding. Choose names and colours that generate interest and a positive buzz.

11. Interview And Advertise For Project Members
Being selected for a project shoould be seen as a privelege and exciting opportunity. You need to nurture a clulture where the best staff are selected for project work. A simple yet effective way of achieving this is by ensuring that all project member are interviewed for project roles. Advertise up and coming projects internally on your intranet and notice boards. Make projects cool and exciting by rewarding successful projects with perks and bonuses. make it that your best people want to be on the most challenging projects.

12. Only Worry About Real Risks
Risk management within the project should focus on the direct risks only. Risk registers can be over populated with large risks that if they occur will have a far greater impact than on just the project. Take ownership of the large company risks yourself as the project sponsor. Get the team to focus only on risks that are local and could impact the project.

13. Let Teams Work To Their Own Heartbeat
Each project team is unique, don’t impose your individual way of working on the team. Encourage them to work in the way which delivers the best results. Casual clothes, late starts, early finishes; none of these matter on a project if the project is delivering exceptional results. Focus on the results and let the team work the way they want to.

14. Get Experts In When You Need Them
At specific points on a project it is wise to get in experts to help. If your team is weak in requirements gathering hire specialist requiremenst analysts. If you need help putting together business cases and project plans then recognise this and get external help.

When selecting consultants their experience and portfolio of work is important. But it is more essential that you and the project team can work with them on a personal level. Look for clear jargon free communication and individual personalities that will fit in with your company culture.

15. Sell The Project
Organisations normally have numerous projects under way at once.If you want your project to be a success then you are going to have to sell its benefits. You will need to sell to ensure that you get access to the best resources. You will need to sell to raise the profile of the project so that the team are motivated to deliver. Talk up the project team with other senior stakeholders and encourage them to get involved. Get their support by selling the benefits and the project will have more chance of succeeding.

16. Benchmark And Strive Higher
Don’t aim for mediocre results. Benchmark the best solutions available in your industry and beyond. Measure your deliverables against the best in class and aim to become the best. Don’t accept budget or resource limitations. Some of the greatest inventions and products were delivered on shoe-string budgets. Sell your project vision with passion and the project team will aim for it. Believe in the project team and they will deliver exceptional results.

17. Mix The Team Dynamic
Successful teams require a healthy mixture of skills, personalities and experience. Consider the different individual personalities when putting the project team together. Put together different ages and perspectives.

18. Refresh The Team
Adding fresh resources into projects that become stale is a good way of revitalising the project’s energy levels. New ideas and perspectives can help to break any deadlocks.

19. Incentivise Suppliers
If your project is dependent on external suppliers then provide incentives to ensure they will be rewarded on good performance. Encourage them to deliver early through project bonuses and reward schemes. You want your suppliers to be dedicated to the success of your project and incentivising them financially will guarantee their focus.

20. Encourage Teams To Document Only When It Hurts
An approach borrowed from the ‘Agil Alliance’, project teams should be focused on delivering value and not necessarily documentation. Unless the documentation is a critical part of the required outputs then teams should be looking to capture information in a temporary format. Make sure teams have lots of whiteboard space and flip-charts. This will save the team time and energy and allow them to focus on the real value, the deliverables.

21. Ask Questions And Stay Involved
Keep involved with the project. Ask open questions and closed ones. Keep the Project Managers on their toes. Be there to support them nut make sure that they know that the project is important to you. Stay involved with the project and anything you can to help them.

22. Do Something
Projects continue to fail because teams continue to make the same mistakes. Take charge of the situation and don’t accept poor projects. If the project is going to fail then make it fail fast. Learn from the failure and start another project with greater chances of success. Stay positive and believe that with the right tools and support your projects can make a difference.

Share This Article With Other Senior Managers And Discuss How You Will Improve Your project Success Rates

Lee McCance is an experienced Project Manager and Business Analyst. Specialising in delivering technology projects and with a track record of rescuing failing projects. A PRINCE2 practitioner he also has delivered projects using agile and lean methodologies. He is able to communicate effectively between technical teams and senior management.

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