As you settle into your seat on the flight, the voice of the pilot comes across the loudspeaker: “We’d like to welcome you onboard Flight 67 today,” he says. “We’ll be taking off in about 10 minutes. Winds are light and from the east, and we have just over a 50% chance of not crashing along the way. Enjoy the flight.”
Or, what if you were on the operating table for a routine surgery and, just before you go under anesthesia the doctor leans over and says, “There’s just over a 50% chance that you’ll make it through this procedure.”
A 50% success rate is an utterly unacceptable statistic for the operational excellence demands of the aviation or medical industries. As a matter of fact, these statistics would be utterly unacceptable in any industry. A business could not stay afloat if for every widget a company made, one failed.
That is, until we move into the project management profession. Take a look at the Project Outcomes data from the Pulse of the Profession 2021 (2021) report published by PMI. The question being answered is, “In the past 12 months, what percentage of projects at your organization… ?”
Let’s break this down a bit. Globally,
- 12% were deemed failures
- 27% did not meet original goals and business intent
- 39% were over budget
- 45% were not completed on time
- 67% did not experience scope creep
On the surface, 67% of projects not experiencing scope creep may sound like a good thing. But, it’s really not when you ask yourself, “In the absence of scope creep, why were projects still late, over budget, or considered a failure with the original scope?”
And, would you take your chances on a flight or surgical procedure that has anywhere near those statistics? Would your company stay in business if operations was 39% over budget or consistently delivered late 45% of the time? Of course not!
6 Ways to Increase Project Success
OK, enough complaining. What can be done to get projects closer to the efficiencies and effectiveness of operations? Consider the following 6 suggestions that appear during Stage 4 and 5 of the Project Management Journey.
- Organizational Leaders are Involved - Company leaders have visibility into what projects are being worked on, the value they are expected to deliver, and what support will be needed from their teams. This level of ownership and decision-making by organizational leaders will ensure they keep their eyes on the success of the project and help clear any obstacles.
- Rockstars are Assigned - Let’s face it, some people are better than others. You want your pilot to be the best if there’s an emergency, and your surgeon to fix what’s wrong. You also want the best people on your projects. These are the ones who anticipate problems, come up with creative solutions, and take pride in delivering projects on time and on budget.
- Focus on the Future - As you move from tactical execution and governance to strategic delivery, early on, project managers may focus on the past. I.e., a standard project update consists of Accomplishments (something in the past), Risks (something bad that might happen), and a few Next Steps or Milestones. What if this typical mindset shifted from “this is how we are doing on this project” to “here’s how we can drive competitive advantage with this project”? Instead of yawns, leadership will nod heartily and provide robust project support.
- The PMO is Embraced by Leadership - The PMO, Project Managers, and all things related to Project Delivery have earned the right to be at the table. An executive owns the PMO or project delivery and continues to advocate, defend, and tell the stories of how and why a PMO delivers value to the business. This person is also instrumental in making sure other organizational leaders are involved in the portfolio and decision-making process (see point 1 above) to help ensure project success.
- Project Outcomes are Aligned with Strategies - It’s important to not punish your best people by taking them away from their day job (operations), assigning them to a project, and not changing how they are measured or rewarded. A project is undertaken to change, improve, update, or remove something necessary to support the strategy of the company. Make sure everyone sees how what they are working on fits into the company’s strategy, and that success for the project means success for those involved.
- There’s an Expectation that Projects Will Deliver Business Value - Gone are the days of project success being defined as being delivered on time, in scope, and on budget. These are still important success criteria. But, there is a very reasonable expectation that if the business is going to invest in something, there’s going to be a return on that investment. Follow the adage “that which gets measured gets managed.” Ensure that business value is delivered and your projects will receive the attention (translation: people, resources, and budget) they deserve to be successful.
But, I’m Just Starting Out on My Project Management Journey
If you’re not in Stage 4 or 5 of your Project Management Journey, you may be saying to yourself, “I barely have a spreadsheet pulled together with a list of tasks to get done for a project, and I’m expected to implement these six suggestions?” Yes and no. The list above is aspirational if you are early on in your Project Management journey.
It doesn’t matter where you are on the journey as long as you follow the spirit of what is being suggested. For every project, make sure you have top down support, it aligns with company strategy, the best people are assigned, and you can show real business value. Your project can’t help but be successful if these conditions are in place.
Will the project management profession ever achieve the near 100% operational efficiency expected out of so many industries? Probably not. The very nature of projects is that they are disruptive, innovative, and delve into the territory of the unknown and never-been-done-before. But, the stats at the beginning of this post are abysmal. Implementing the suggestions above will allow our profession to deliver projects better.
Think about the difference it could make if the stats above were cut in half. It would look something like this:
- 6% were deemed failures
- 14% did not meet original goals and business intent
- 20% were over budget
- 23% were not completed on time
Still not great, but a whole lot better than what we opened with! Think about the money that could be saved and applied towards other projects, and how the reputation of the project management profession would improve.
So, the next time you are on a flight and you hear the pilot say, “Sit back and enjoy the ride,” reflect on your project management journey. Think about what you can do now, regardless of where you are on your journey, to help your projects reach their destination.