Critical Distinctions

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

My last column, in which I introduced the concepts of project success and investment success, once again generated a great deal of discussion and feedback, some positive and some critical. There is a strong urge among many not to separate the two ideas--either from a belief that focussing on two different sets of success criteria will create disagreement and discord, or that separating project success from investment success in some way gives project managers a "free pass" that divorces their responsibilities from the needs of the business.

The arguments against separating project and investment success as ideas ignore the fact that they both exist in any project, and that any attempt to merge them in fact creates confusion about roles, responsibilities and authorities, rather than clarifying them. In any decision, there are two questions that must be answered: "Why are we making an investment?" and "What is the best means of undertaking the work to realize the investment?" The answer to the first question defines the criteria for investment success, while the answer to the second question provides the base of identifying project success.

To illustrate this idea, imagine a company undertaking its annual business planning exercise. A key question that the company is wrestling with is whether to diversify its product line in order to tap into a new marketplace. Key to …

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