Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

By Linda Agyapong, PMP

I received a lot of interesting feedback on my last post, “What Defines Project Success,” which has necessitated a follow up.

For those who missed the discussion, Aaron Shenhar et al. summarized it perfectly by saying there is no one-size-fits-all definition for project success. Instead, it’s based on the philosophy of “how different dimensions mean different things to different stakeholders at different times and for different projects.”

Every project is different and hence could have different success criteria.  These were the exact same sentiments that folks shared in the discussion on my last post. This time we’ll dissect the concept of project success by breaking down some of the buzzwords surrounding it.

Project managers Jim, Mary and Alex (the same characters from our prior discussion), entered into a high profile kick-off meeting with some Fortune 500 clients regarding an upcoming million-dollar project. When the floor was opened for the clients to ask questions, they unanimously said that nearly 50 percent of the discussion went over their heads because all they could hear were buzzwords.

These buzzwords were “project success” vs. “project management success” and “project success factors” vs. “project success criteria.” The clients could not figure out if they meant the same or not. Let’s help Jim, Mary and Alex break down these buzzwords to their clients based on recent research I performed.

Project Success vs. Project Management Success

Terry Cooke-Davies embarked on an empirical study to identify the factors that are critical in obtaining successful projects after stakeholders had been disappointed with the project results that were being obtained. His study was to address the following three broad concerns:

·         The factors that make project management successful

·         The factors that make projects successful

·         The factors that make projects successful on a consistent basis

Although his three concerns may appear to be intertwined, Anton de Wit provided a distinction: Project success identifies factors that help to attain the overall objectives of the project, whereas project management success focuses on addressing some of the project’s constraints (including time, cost and quality) within the project.

Based on this understanding, Mr. Cooke-Davies concluded that there is a cycle of individual success (such as an individual’s leadership style), which leads to corporate success that later transforms into corporate best practices. As such, once these best practices are consistently applied, it could lead to making projects successful on a consistent basis.

Project Success Factors vs. Project Success Criteria

In their research, Ralf Müller and Kam Jugdev argued that project success factors identify the specific elements within the project “which, when influenced, increase the likelihood of success.” They added that these are the independent variables that enhance the success of the project. And Mr. de Wit described them as “those inputs to the management system that” directly or indirectly lead to the project’s success. (Can you name some specific examples?)

Conversely, Dr. Müller and Dr. Jugdev explained that project success criteria are the measures (or acceptance criteria) by which the final outcome of the project will be judged, i.e., whether the project is successful, challenged or a failure. They added that the project’s success is measured by these dependent variables. (Can you name some examples?)  

So there you have it! Are you enjoying this ride so far?

In my next post I’ll tie this concept of project success to the stakeholder. Until then, I’m interested to get your perspective on this topic.

Posted by Linda Agyapong on: August 01, 2017 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

What Defines Project Success?

By Linda Agyapong

During lunch one day, project managers Jim, Mary and Alex got into an argument over who was best adhering to their industry’s project success criteria. They all had sound arguments. The problem was, however, an “industry standard” did not appear to exist.

Jim argued that he follows the good old “triple constraints” or “iron triangle” concept (i.e., time, cost and scope). Mary sharply retorted that she follows the “quadruple constraints” concept (i.e., time, cost, scope and quality), where the “quality” minimized bugs or defects. Alex quickly asserted that he is the best project manager because in addition to what both Jim and Mary did, he reduces risk, meets stakeholder expectations, and his projects generally add value to the organization in extra areas.

Before we jump into crowning who we think should be project manager of the year, let’s take a trip down some project manager memory lane based on recent research I performed.

Although PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) makes certain recommendations, the subject of project success criteria has been evolving for more than five decades.

In her report, Kate Davis summed up the different success criteria throughout the years:

1970s: Project success was centered on the “operations side, tools and techniques (‘iron triangle’).”

1980s: The technical components of the project and its relationship with the project team and project manager.

1990s: The “critical success factor” framework, and its subsequent dependence on both external and internal stakeholders.

21st century: The focus has primarily been on the stakeholder.

Davis isn’t the only one pointing out the changing criteria. Many academics and authors have noted the differences, including:

1980s: Jeffrey K. Pinto and Dennis P. Slevin expressed their frustration in a Project Management Journal article by asking, “How can we truly assess the outcome of a project when we (in the project management field) cannot fully agree on how project “success” should be determined?”

Late 1990s: David Baccarini from the Curtin University of Technology recounted in a Project Management Journal article that “a review of the project management literature provides no consistent interpretation of the term ‘project success.’”

2008: Graeme Thomas and Walter Fernández said that “although IT project failure is considered widespread, there is no commonly agreed definition of success and failure.” They described project success as being “a difficult and elusive concept, with many different meanings,” and hence called it protean (likening it to the Greek sea-god Proteus), based on its ability to continually change its “form to avoid capture.”

The current decade: Hans Georg Gemünden criticized the triple constraints for failing to consider other factors, such as stakeholder impact, since value lies in the eye of the beholder.” He recommended project success criteria be based on its “targeted outcome and impact” to the organization’s business case.

Standish Group’s 2015 CHAOS Report redefined a successful project from one being “on time, on budget and on target,” to one being “on time, on budget and with a satisfactory result.” This redefinition was to ensure project deliverables met stakeholder expectations and also added value to the organization.

So based on the above, which of our three project managers (Jim, Mary or Alex) should be crowned project manager of the year?  

Posted by Linda Agyapong on: June 27, 2017 08:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)
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