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No Silver Bullet to Guarantee Project Success
By Neil Ryder

Following are the observations I made through my experience in Project Management.

  • Project success begins right at the beginning. Before a project is initiated it is important to assess the organizational environment.
    • Is the climate right for change?
    • How many other unfinished projects do we have?
    • How successful has the implementation of previous projects been?

    Answers to these questions (and many more similar ones) will provide a strong indication of the organisational climate. If the climate is ‘hostile’, put corrective action in place first – it will cost money but much less than the costs (direct and indirect) you will incur from a failed or canceled project.

  • Define the project in terms of:

    • Why are we doing this?
    • What are the objective deliverables we expect from this project

    This is important. So is the communication of these definitions to the Project Manager and his/her team. Then give the Project Team the opportunity to question/clarify the meaning and intent of these definitions. They will then feel more included and accountable for the project’s success.

  • Setting reasonable expectations for the project is vital – what can realistically be done, by when and at what cost? Make sure the objectives are clear and that the funding and resources needed are fully available to complete what you want on time and to specification.

  • Strong Project Managers are a must! External Project Managers are usually more successful – they are more focused and less likely to get tangled up in multiple projects, competing and conflicting objectives and politics.

  • If internal Project Managers are used, they need to be eased into their role. Putting them through a training course and calling them ‘Project Managers’ does not guarantee success! The use of project simulations is a great way to do this. New Project Managers can then be assigned to manage projects that match their competencies and capabilities.

  • Selecting Project Managers for their attitudes and behaviors is important. You can put them on a training program to improve their knowledge and skills – you are stuck with their attitudes and behaviors!

  • Create high performing project teams! Select and assign the best people – not the ones that can be spared.

  • Break the project down into a series of stages or sub projects. Monitor their deliverables against the plan and take appropriate corrective action – early!

  • Project Teams get a lot of satisfaction from achieving a goal – it’s highly motivating. Sub projects should deliver their outcome within twelve weeks. ‘World Peace Tasks’ rarely deliver – they take too long, produce no short term results and team members lose interest.

  • Find a way of making Project Managers accountable and devise an appropriate rewards program. Weak accountability delivers weak outcomes.
  • Once a project has started, continually monitor it against the organization’s goals. If these goals change and there is no longer a case for a particular project, stop it! This is a sign of maturity.

If I was asked to summarize my findings into two sentences I would say:

There is no ‘silver bullet’ that will guarantee project success so stop looking for it.
But there are a number of steps (see above) that you can take throughout the project to minimize the risk of failure!

Neil Ryder is the Managing Director of if only … ltd – a new breed of business consultants specialising in organisational transformation.. They work hand in hand with management teams to build sustainable exceptional performance in people, teams & organisations.

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