The evolution of project success-drivers
In a historic perspective we have had a number of significant changes in what have been the main focus points regarding drivers for success of projects.
Historic Driver 1: Tooling creates success
Years back the means for supporting success in projects was primarily focused on tools. A lot of technically well-designed (but not very user-friendly) tools were developed – some were even used – but as we all know, it did not dramatically increase the success rate of projects.
“The upcoming important drivers in delivering successful projects are PURPOSE and LEADERSHIP”
Historic Driver 2: Extreme process and maturity focus
The focus shifted to processes, for example by means of adoption and implementation of CMMI and Prince2 etc. The process and maturity focus got out of hand and processes were developed and implemented by the dozen. The belief then was, that if we had enough data, we would be able to analyse it and take the appropriate actions – and thus supporting the success of the projects.
This approach did not work as planned, because everyone already knew the projects were in bad shape long before the processes, measurements and checkpoints revealed so. Projects were rewarded for being process compliant, and in some cases the project itself has been the goal rather than the project’s deliveries, results and value.
A classic way to measure if e.g. risk management or communication is well handled in a project is to firstly measure if the project is compliant with the process (and if not then tailor the process or enforce adoption in the project) and secondly control if the project is generating the required documentation on the required forms and templates.
While this approach easily fits into a gate review or checklist it does not answer whether or not the project is doing good.
Historic Driver 3: Everything agile
Agile became the new buzzword, and everything should be agile and iterative. We started to have short stand-up meetings, and called the delivery cycles for sprints. It did not dramatically improve the success of projects, but it did relax some of the (most rigid) requirements to processes and maturity, which in turn increased job satisfaction, motivation and productivity.
Historic Driver 4: The 3 P’s – People, Processes and Products
The agile approach made us realise that people must be prioritised before processes, and that products are merely tools and means for a project to achieve success. After all, it is people that declare the project successful. Thinking in terms of the 3 P’s is relatively new but have gained considerable recognition of taking projects in the right direction, and is being used e.g. as starting points when setting goals in projects and planning implementation. This is a good approach, but we are just getting started.
Status of today
So the next question is: Are we there yet? 🙂 The answer is no, and we still have a far way to go – despite the evolution the success rate for projects is still quite low but it has gradually changed our way of thinking about projects.
The supporting tools have improved dramatically in the last few years alone, and applying the right tools to the right projects can create great value. The processes and project models have provided us with many good tools for managing projects, and using tailored processes is now one of the the basic building blocks of any project. Furthermore, the agile approach has thought us to respond to changes in a non-rigid fashion. Project management as a discipline has become a commodity through project managers that identify the right processes and adopt the right tools.
“A risk analysis does not mitigate risks or identify the perfect contingency plan, people do, and that is what leadership is all about”
What are the upcoming drivers for success?
There is no silver bullet and the evolution will continue, however I believe that the upcoming important drivers in delivering successful projects are PURPOSE and LEADERSHIP.
Upcoming Driver 5: Defining purpose
The three P’s must be joined by a fourth, namely Purpose. The purpose of a project is often forgotten; either it is not well defined, it becomes irrelevant, not communicated, misunderstood, not accepted and so forth. Also the purpose of a project must respond to changes.
The project purpose is very important because it is the foundation and starting point when identifying the right approaches to change management. Furthermore, planning the realisation of benefits (which most often is to happen after the project has ended) is formed directly from purpose of the project. (One could argue that it is the other way around so that purpose is derived from the benefits, however – in my experience – we are not that mature yet.)
Upcoming Driver 6: Engaged leadership
The value of project management is delivered through a rare skill called leadership, and that discipline has been neglected for too long. While project management provides tools, structure and control, project leadership gives everyone involved in the project a direction, motivation, and inspire engagement.
Leadership in projects is about continuously talking to people about the projects purpose, achievements and challenges – and thus get an unfiltered feeling and understanding of how the people are doing (as well as the other way around!). I have deliberately chosen the word “talking to” because that is what is needed – not “communication”. And “people” are not only the project team and decision makers but also various other persons who are affected by the project. A leader is genuinely seeking to understand concerns and interests of the people involved, and has a strong personal drive to move things forward and proactively resolve issues. A risk analysis does not mitigate risks or identify the perfect contingency plan, people do, and that is what leadership is all about.
Nurture leadership in your organisations. Sending project managers on a PRINCE2 course gives great tools for controlling and reporting the project, but does not add leadership skills. You need to spend time nurturing leadership, as it cannot be learned in a classroom. Being a great leadership mentor combined with hands-on experience will make your project managers take your projects a great leap forward towards success.