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The Meaning of Success

The Meaning of Success

Part 3 of a Three-Part Examination of Project Management Missing Links

Why Bother?

If project management failure rates are as high as we are led to believe, why try to do projects at all? asks Margo Visitacion, vice president in Forrester's Application Development Infrastructure research group. In a May 2005 paper called 'What Successful Organizations Know About Project Management', Visitacion answers herself by saying that in fact, Forrester, too, believes the state of project management is far better than the headlines suggest. Like DeMarco, Visitacion does not accept it is possible to pigeonhole any project's outcome as simply successful, challenged or failed; outcomes are too specific, she says, and inseparable from the situational reality of the organizations that implement them.

"As business becomes increasingly digitized, the old way of doing projects — business making a request and walking away to wait for delivery — doesn't work any more. To be successful, a company must toss aside preconceived notions of what makes up project delivery as well as the criteria for measuring successful projects," Visitacion writes.

"Companies are making gains in project delivery and are doing so by reconsidering the elements of project management; not by throwing out traditional practices, but by adapting processes that better fit changing business models. Accomplishing such change requires a major culture shift; organizations are rethinking how the business and IT must share responsibility and accountability for project delivery and what practices must be put in place to achieve greater chances of success," she writes.

To help draw such conclusions, Forrester interviewed 32 organizations at various levels of maturity and experiencing different levels of success across North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region about their project management practices.

Undoubtedly the goals for successful delivery should always be on time, on budget and meet expectations, Visitacion says, but situational realities are just as important. And it is those situational realities that she argues may allow the organization to declare success even if only one of those requirements is met. "Companies that are successful project organizations are flexible enough to first determine which of the requirements are a necessity on a project-by-project basis, then base their metrics on the agreed-upon measurement," she says.

What brands a project a success all comes down to a question of value, which will almost always trump timeliness. As Visitacion points out, delivering what the customer ordered is likely to matter far more than when it is delivered, unless failure to meet the time frame is going to incur a significant penalty. Organizations need to be much more flexible in thinking about projects, she suggests.

"Shifting schedules is unacceptable if caused by things such as poorly defined business cases, inaccurate estimates and poor project management. But external or organizational business changes, changing customer requirements or compliance changes can be acceptable if they will result in a more useful and effective project. Change management is the critical component that ensures successful delivery — consistent communication practices, management and execution keep all stakeholders informed and involved in every decision-making process.

"What does success mean? If a company were to dissect any recently completed project, it would find a multitude of measures to demonstrate success or failure and many shades of grey in between," she writes. "Identifying these elements can enable an organization to put practices in place that prevent a project from running off track or create the right environment to support consistent successful delivery."

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