Bringing in additional project management resources can not only save a failing project but also help define what constitutes project success at an early stage
Projects fail all the time. What constitutes a project’s success and how it is defined will differ from organisation to organisation.
The standard expectation for a successful project is that it’s delivered on time, on budget and is of the right quality. This is often the case if the project has been competently managed and led.
It is, however, much more important that the business case and the benefits are made clear at the beginning of a project and readjusted along the journey, because this is the real measure of a project’s success.
Projects fail because the latter point hasn’t been realistically set out, the requirement has changed due to market or economic forces, or there has been a lack of communication at all levels.
If a project’s success is determined by its delivery in line with expectations, then the person who has set the guidelines will have a determining factor as to the success or failure of the project. This is usually the project sponsor, the person who “owns” it.
Project governance is the key to success, and business managers should be involved along the way to ensure the project is delivered in line with expectations.
Formal project governance is the big change we have seen over the past few years, and this was a response to the lack of ownership and control by the very people who require and fund the outcome of projects – the business managers.
A project running behind budget and time would usually be seen as a failure, but in fact a project’s success is determined by the benefit it delivers to the business, and if that means the cost and completion date have to be moved with the agreement of the stakeholders, then so be it.
Interim managers are often bought in to rescue “failing” projects. This can make perfect sense, because having a fresh set of eyes on the situation and making the necessary changes to drive the project forward can get the project team and its sponsors realigned.
There are real benefits to doing this, not least because once the project is underway and costs have been incurred, it can be difficult for the project team to pull it back on track. An interim manager can ensure that stakeholders become realigned to the outcomes and that people are ready for the change the project was intended to deliver.
Finding and retaining the right resource is challenging but critical. Once the right skill set has been defined, engaging externally can sometimes be the only option.
A more fruitful solution is sometimes to resource externally to lead the project from the outset, with someone whose only focus is to enable change and who won’t be drawn in to business as usual.
One of the key ingredients is to spot the warning signs and act immediately. Planning is paramount to the success of a project, and it is important to define what constitutes success at the early stage of the process. It is often the case that the project manager will be held to account if the project is deemed to be a failure, but actually the project sponsor is the person truly responsible for the project’s success. If the expectations have not been realistic, if communication has been poor, if the original business need has changed, and if adequate training has not been provided, then this all points to the project sponsor.
Taking this back to grassroots, there could be a cultural problem if the business is not one that is used to embracing change: the people won’t have the motivation to make it work and hence it’s another pointer towards project failure.
The adoption of a strong, centralised project management office (PMO) allows for the transfer of knowledge and sharing. Knowledge-sharing and best practice will help ensure the future success of projects.
If this is led with a good PMO director and appropriate, experienced project managers, not just certified project managers (as this only shows they understand a method), then at least the risk of failure is minimised. Again, interim managers can be engaged to set this up.
Ensuring project success is not easy. If it was, there would be far fewer failed projects. There are, however, good practices to adopt in order to minimise the risk of failure. If the proper planning, communication and governance is adhered to, stakeholders’ expectations are properly managed and the right business requirements have been set, then you stand a fighting chance.
After all, nobody sets out to fail or to do a poor job, but one of the key ingredients is to spot the warning signs and act immediately. If that means bringing in an additional resource, then it could be money well spent.