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What does it take to succeed?

Every step of the process has been carefully planned and thought through, no stone has been left unturned. We’ve allocated the best possible resources, each one a leader if not the best in their field. And we’ve been well funded, gone are the days of doing things on a shoe string, we were prepared to invest whatever it took for this to succeed. Finally we were prepared to be innovative and do things a little differently to get a better outcome.

So why are we not getting the desired result?

Don’t worry this is not another “RWC Enquiry” about to kick off, but if you stay with me you can draw your own conclusions.

Project failures have been occurring ever since Adam and Eve started that garden makeover way back in the early days of humanity. In that time much has been written about what it takes to manage projects to success. Overall most commentators seem to agree that there are certainly some foundation elements to project success:

  • Invest time and effort in quality planning;
  • Allocate your best people and resources on your project;
  • Make sure your project funding is realistic; and
  • Don’t be afraid to be innovative in your approach.

Clearly these are necessary elements of success for a project and in many respects they are really the baseline for project governance and management. Few projects of any significance nowadays would be kicked off knowing that one or several of these elements were not in place.

However, are they enough?

The answer surely is a resounding no. They are critical contributors to success but on their own they are not enough. History tells us so.

So are there any lessons we can take from the recent events on the playing fields of Wales? Perhaps there are…

  • Be responsive and decisive with your decision making. Be close to events in your project and take action quickly. Don’t let situations drift to a point where you have your back against the wall and are forced to take drastic measures.
  • Keep the scoreboard ticking over. Building and sustaining momentum is very important to project success. There is no better way to demonstrate and maintain momentum than to deliver regular wins and to keep them coming. There is no better way to lose momentum than to stop “scoring”. To be constantly in a situation of building to the grand event or major breakthrough, with your stakeholders watching on breathlessly wondering what’s happening.
  • Take the points when they are on offer. Successes don’t need to be dramatic events or outcomes. Many of your stakeholders will not be looking for a grand enterprise-wide solution from your project. They will be looking for a solution to a tedious or inefficient day to day problem. Remember that by far the largest stakeholder group in any project is the beneficiaries of the project outcome. The people who will use your solution, not; the project team, the steering committee; or the board. These people will recognise a change to process or removal of work steps as a genuine win and will welcome the news that you have solved that piece of the puzzle. Collectively these small things are part of your bigger picture of success and at the end of the day the points all add up.
  • Don’t overcook your resource pool. Whilst in many respects it’s great to have a wealth of riches and talent in your team, don’t forget that each member of the team requires managing and needs to make a demonstrable contribution. Talented people inappropriately or under utilised will quickly become disillusioned and lose interest. They need to know they have a real role and what is required to perform that role. At the end of the day a project team needs to be appropriately sized with a balance of talents to address the task at hand. There is certainly an argument that too much talent is as big a risk as too little.
  • Understand the goal. Make sure everyone knows where it is, what it looks like and most importantly how to get there. This may sound rather trite but too often projects are conducted in an environment where few people really know or understand what it’s all about. Secrecy and stealth are fine if you’re designing the “Combined Services Strike Platform”, but it’s very helpful if your stakeholders know that it’s an aeroplane not a barge you are developing for them.
  • Finally establish passionate commitment to the goal in your team and your stakeholders. People need to understand “what’s in it for them” before they will become committed to your project. They will need to understand how your project delivers that solution they are seeking. To be successful though you collectively need to really want that outcome more than anyone else and certainly more than any other outcome.

If I was to characterise these things I’d say they were about the way you conduct your project rather than foundation elements. They are about conducting a project intelligently and playing the game smart.

Maybe there are some lessons we can take from the RWC after all.

Posted by: Martin Johnston | 10 October 2007

Tags: Project Delivery

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