Managing Every Project to a Successful Outcome

Ok, that's really not possible...I realize.  I'd like to think it was, and by my estimations, based on the 3 main ingredients to project success...on-time delivery, on-budget delivery, and customer satisfaction...I think I've landed in the 85-90% success range which is higher than the 55-60% range that is generally considered the project management norm.  But who knows?   

We all know PM success is difficult and not always replicatible.  We all know that not every project is successful.  But we can try and try and try again.


What project success is NOT...

First, let’s ask the question….what is project success?  How do we define what makes a project successful?  Well, we can definitely look at some ways to know for sure that your project has not been successful:


  • Customer satisfaction with the engagement is very low
  • The project was canceled mid-strea
  • The PM or key team members were replaced due to performance or customer issues
  • The budget is way out of wack
  • The timeline has shifted out of control
  • Requirements are still changing frequently deep into the project

What success Is...

These are just 6…the list could be endless.  Now let’s look at some signs the project has been successful:


* Customer is happily approving and paying for change orders

* Customer satisfaction is high

* Major project milestones and deliverables are being met and approved without delays

* The project budget is inline with expectations

* Delivery team resources are engaged and no dissention is apparent

* Executive management is getting positive feedback from the customer


Again, this is only a few – there are many more…though I think it’s easier sometimes to see what’s going wrong then what’s going right….sadly.  


What can we do about it?

We realize we really can’t ensure that every project will be successful every time, as the title of this article seems to suggest.  But what steps can the project manager take to ensure that we’re giving it the best chance to succeed?  Here’s my take:

  • Consistent delivery of expected material and information – status reports, updated project budget status, issues/risks lists
  • Excellent communication of priorities and expectations to delivery team members
  • Cohesive, co-management situation with the customer organization with fast dissemination of any alert or critical information – be honest with the customer
  • Reusable and repeatable processes and templates in place in the organization for the PMO or PM's
  • Manage all change closely – scope, potential risks, change orders – don’t let these get out of hand because the project can go south quickly if you do
  • Strong PMO in place utilizing knowledge sharing and post-project lessons learned sessions
  • Frequent formal and adhoc communications – delivery team calls, customer status calls, email alerts and updates
  • Retention of skilled and necessary project resources – fight for them with executive management, if necessary
  • Manage the schedule tightly and make sure it’s in every project member’s hands and up-to-date at all times

Summary / call for input

Nothing is going to ensure success every time.  Picking the right technology, the right software development process, the right vendor, etc. will not ensure success every time.  What is definitely in our control is good management of what we have and utilization of the tools we have at hand to ensure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same project goals.

Readers – please share your thoughts.  What are your perceptions of project success and failure?  Do you do customer followups to gain insight on project outcomes?  Please share your thoughts and discuss.


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