By Marian Haus, PMP
There is obviously a high interest in the project management community and literature about what drives project success. For example, searching online for “why projects succeed” will return you five times more web pages than “why projects fail.” Similarly, there are four times more pages about “project success factors” than “project failure factors.”
This is no coincidence! The overwhelming interest in project success insights is driven by the struggle of many organizations and project managers to understand what drives success.
But before answering the question of why projects succeed, let’s first try to define project success.
The most common definition of success is delivering the project on time, on budget and in scope. PMI’s PMBOK Guide® says a project is successful if the following parameters are met: product and project quality, timeliness, budget compliance and customer satisfaction.
Others define project success by measuring the project ROI (or business case) over a certain period of time. If the ROI is positive, the project is declared successful, regardless of its deviations along the way.
I have my own definition: A project is successful if it meets its given goals, within acceptable variance boundaries (e.g., in terms of scope, time or budget). This is a relative definition and relies on the fact that the world is not perfect. Hence even a successful project will rarely be a 100 percent success.
A civil construction project might be declared successful if it meets its scope and quality. Acceptable time or budget deviations might not be seen as failure. Similarly, an IT project might be declared successful if it meets its scope on time, with acceptable deviations from quality or budget.
A project’s success is relative: it depends on how the success criteria and metrics are defined from the very beginnings of the project, along with who will measure them.
OK, there are clearly many definitions of project success. Similarly, there are also many views and studies on why projects succeed.
Let’s take a look at a few studies and try to find a common denominator.
According to PMI’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management, over the last three years the number of projects meeting their goals—hence being successful—has remained steady at about two-thirds of projects. This success is the result of organizations supporting project excellence by focusing on fundamental aspects of culture, talent and process.
But size matters, too. A Gartner study from 2012 shows that small IT projects (below US$350,000) are more likely to succeed than big projects (budgets over US$1 million).
Other studies reveal that project success is tightly linked to clear project objectives and requirements that are fully understood and supported by actively engaged stakeholders.
My view on the common denominator that leads to project success is simple: the main drivers of project success are rarely of a technical nature. Instead, the drivers are the basics of the project management culture and discipline within the project organization.
In other words, fix the project management basics, and your chances of reaching project success will increase.
Have you been in situations where it seems that only shouting generates results? Or has your team been pressured to complete tasks that don’t appear to benefit your project? Maybe as the project manager, you have been in the middle of confusion and agitation that seem to undermine your project management abilities.
Could it be that many of the scenarios you encounter have their roots in conflicting stakeholder requests and misunderstandings? Well, it’s possible to avoid these types of predicaments. Consider utilizing the following three tools that allow you to have better control of your project and your project team:
1) Communications Plan. Outline a plan with names, contact information, and details on when and what messages need to be delivered to and from you. This tool allows you to know the frequency of message exchanges and the media required for specific contacts.
It also lets you know what level of detail the message should have, i.e., if it is going to a senior manager vs. a member of the supporting team.
2) Stakeholder Analysis. Prepare an analysis of your stakeholders to understand what their roles are and what area of your project is impacted by their involvement. This tool can help you with the department that has the biggest impact all the way down to the departments that have even a small effect.
Additionally, this tool can show how those who are directly or indirectly connected to your project may have an influence that can be detrimental.
3) Project Plan. Develop a plan with the focus on your project objectives and what the project will entail. Organize the plan for what needs to be done and when. The tool should show ownership and timings that you can share with stakeholders to also make them aware of the potential influence of their requests.
Sometimes, we get can get distracted when trying so hard to make sure our projects meet every need. There are many voices, conflicts, risks and events that affect the success of our project. Leaning on these tools may make your stakeholder management process smoother.
By Marian Haus, PMP
There are dozens of studies about project failure. (To name just three: Standish Group’s Chaos reports, PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession®: The High Cost of Low Performance and Gartner’s 2012 survey on why projects fail). There are at least as many reasons why projects fail.
Although in some cases forces external to a project can imperil its success, I am convinced that properly managing internal factors, particularly scope, is a key enabler for project success. This is because internal factors can be controlled, while external factors can merely be influenced.
Let’s take some classic reasons projects fail and tackle their root causes from a project scope management perspective.
Vague or unclear requirements and no change control—aka the never-ending scope. These are typical problems related to poor project scope management. The remedy is straightforward. Complete and clear requirements should make it to the scope; anything else poses a risk. In addition, at least a basic change management process is required to keep scope creep under control.
Lack of clear roles and responsibilities (R&R). You tailor your project team around the scope work that needs to be carried out. Because of this, you have to be clear about what your project needs to deliver. This includes product specifications, product design, implementation, integration with other related product parts, validation, delivery, etc.
If the lack of R&R clarity lies within your client organization or with an organization external to your project, then break down your project scope into specific deliverables and lay out the assumption and prerequisites for delivering them. For example, a product specification will have to be reviewed and signed off by the client, the client is expected to provide you with the validation benchmarks, etc.
A lack of R&R often results in lack of ownership and accountability of deliverables.
Underestimated timelines. This can happen especially if estimations are done based on insufficient information or when the scope is not well understood. Estimates are consequently rough, based on previous experience, approximations and assumptions. If conditions are changing during the project lifecycle, this can lead to time or budget overruns.
Unclear and/or unrealistic expectations. This is often related to the project scope. Your project team might be unclear about what it is supposed to deliver or what level of quality and maturity your deliverable will have to pass to meet the acceptance criteria. In other cases, the team might be unclear on how the delivery of your project scope will impact the receiving organization.
Project complexity. This relates mainly to the failure to break down a large scope into more manageable pieces and deliverables. If the list of deliverables is not clear, the sequence in which these are to be produced will not be determined. If the deliverables’ relation to each other isn’t clear, then team members will just be busy delivering something, sometime, for some level of effort. This leads to missing the project goal or ending up with time or budget overruns.
A well-understood and executed scope brings you a huge step closer to finishing your project successfully.
What is your experience with managing project scopes? What key factors, other than scope, do you see as enablers for project success?
Hello, project manager? You are needed in the meeting room; you are needed for an online chat; you are needed on the phone.
Typical, right? You may feel overwhelmed if you’re expected to be in all places at once. It can help to realize there are only three realms in which you’re truly needed: physical, mental and electronic. Here’s how to address each.
Physical: If possible, try to be physically present for your team. Walk around and talk to stakeholders, team members and others to gather details about your projects.
This provides you with the current status and tidbits that will allow you to be proactive on your projects. It also lets you build rapport with team members.
Mental: You don’t have to be an expert in a programming language or even in the company’s industry. It bodes well, though, when you have some idea of the jargon for conversations with your stakeholders. You’ll want to be aware of the environment—all the external and internal factors and their impact on your projects.
You’ll also need to stay abreast of the benefits your projects bring to the organization. Project managers have to stay mentally focused on their project’s objectives and bottom line.
Try thinking about lessons learned from previous projects to help you gain understanding of how to address potential problems. Investigate tools that allow you to present project results to all levels of management and team members, too.
A detailed report on planned versus actual data is a source that can be shared in various audience-specific formats. You may be called on at any moment for project results and can rely on these tools to support your efforts to be mentally there.
Electronic: Social media and mobile technology allow people to be reached easily. Apps let you track and stay in touch with others. You will want to take advantage of these programs to gain information and respond to concerns about your projects. In many cases, they allow us to address and resolve concerns more quickly.
No matter how you do it, being a project manager means you have to be accessible. We have to manage our projects, not let them manage us.
By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
Just like portfolio managers, business analysts are gaining wide acceptance as a profession. Business analysts can now earn their own PMI certification (PMI-BA) and read their own practice guide (Business Analysis for Practitioners). (Here’s a piece of cultural trivia: Did you know the latest bachelor on the reality TV show “The Bachelor” is a business analyst?)
Portfolio managers should get to know business analysts in their organization, because they can help ensure alignment and management of the portfolio to achieve the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.
What exactly do business analysts do? They, well, conduct business analysis. That’s defined as:
•identifying business needs
•eliciting, documenting and managing requirements
•recommending relevant solutions
With this in mind, there are four major ways that portfolio managers can leverage a business analyst:
1) Develop Pipeline Opportunities
Business analysts can play a critical role in analyzing business problems and opportunities that will eventually be used to initiate projects and programs in the portfolio. Product or technology roadmaps can outline potential projects or programs that will be initiated at future points. They’re also valuable during a project because they can support proposed changes to a project scope (which will affect the overall portfolio) and ensure that the business justification for the project or program remains valid.
Many business analysts are embedded within business areas and are critical to early identification and understanding of future opportunities or changes to the portfolio.
2) Define Needed Business Capabilities
We often think of business analysts as documenting business requirements. Those requirements are built upon an understanding of which capabilities are needed for a particular business domain.
Typically, capabilities are based on the goals and needs of a particular business area. Those needs may be depicted through business domain capability maps, end-to-end process flows or functional diagrams. An assessment of whether the capabilities currently exist or not becomes the basis for identifying priorities and gaps (in processes or talent). It can also be used to benchmark against other companies.
3) Develop Business Cases
With their high-level understanding of the goals, objectives and needs of the enterprise, business analysts can assist in defining the justification for the proposed solution. The basis of a business case is the needs assessment. This process seeks to understand the underlying business problem, assess the current state and perform a gap analysis against the future state.
In addition, the proposed solution (see #4 below) is needed for high-level cost estimates that become the basis for the numerator of the ROI. The potential return (denominator of the ROI) is also based on an analysis of the impact of the solution on the current process.
4) Perform Solutions Analysis
One type of solution analysis is to assess a variety of options to go from the current state to future state. (For example, process changes vs. system implementations.) Business analysts can work with business stakeholders to define immediate solutions (quick wins that may be process changes) or longer-term solutions (new products or systems).
Business analysis outputs provide the context to requirements analysis and solution identification for a given initiative or for long-term planning. Business analysis is often the starting point for initiating one or more projects or programs within a portfolio. The analysis is an ongoing activity within a portfolio as the business environment changes and more information becomes available, creating new competition and strategies.
How do you work with business analysts? Share your experiences and best practices in a comment below. Also, if you’re looking to learn more about how business analysts can support practitioners, check out this pmi.org webpage.