The success rates for projects globally have remained static for years and not in a good way. The Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2019 report acknowledges this fact by stating up front that:
‘Despite all the talk, project performance isn’t getting any better.’
It’s estimated that only a third of projects globally are actually delivered on time and to budget, with KPMG saying that less than 2 per cent actually achieve their ROI. Putting that into organisational context, if less than a third of people turned up for work every day and when they did they were only 2 per cent productive, would that be acceptable?
So, what’s the answer?
Well, most organisations think that the answer is ‘silver bullet’ method implementation and a plethora of buzzwords and approaches used by others in different industries and contexts. However, these will only ever provide a short-term lift, because the root cause of failure continues to be the behaviours of those who are accountable and responsible for projects (or initiatives or whatever your organisation calls them). This is conveniently missed when executives report back on their needless Scandinavian field trips.
So, learning from those who do delivery consistently well, here are five factors of consistently great projects.
1. Sponsors who understand projects
These are the senior managers who don’t assume that because of their position in the hierarchy they have all of the answers and know that being the sponsor of a project isn’t just the wearing of a different hat.
They get that great delivery relies on clear priorities, peer-to-peer challenge, quick decisions, the removal of pointless bureaucracy, a focus on the outcomes and management of the person responsible for delivery. They make the time for their project and role model what they expect of others.
2. People who make the choice to lead, not manage
Those that lead the work (project managers, scrum masters, product owners etc.) understand that it's behaviours that will make their leadership style memorable, both positively and negatively. They understand that to succeed they need to be kind, caring, thoughtful, proactive and courageous and that anger, aggression, deceit and selfishness will only undermine what they're trying to achieve. They know that consistently displaying positive behaviours will encourage a supportive and productive delivery culture where trust is assumed not earned.
At the heart of not only the project but also the outcomes expected, is a vision of how the culture of the organisation will evolve following the implementation of the project. It’s an aspirational statement that excites, engages and is used to demonstrate the commitment of the organisation to build something that will remain relevant and fit-for-purpose within their business landscape for years to come. It will be built by the team, acronym free and cognisant with the values of the organisation and its people.
4. Teams that mix IQ with EQ
People who have the technical know-how to do what they need to do to contribute to the success of the project, but who also understand the human behavioural commitment they need to make to their teammates. A commitment focused on building relationships, sharing stories, creating shared experiences, helping others who may be struggling, keeping an eye on each other’s mental health and smashing their job out of the park every single day.
5. Realistic measures of success
Time and cost – the two things that consistently change throughout all projects (agile AND waterfall) aren’t used as sticks to beat people with. The focus is on stakeholder experience and cultural evolution. Measuring the happiness of people and the continual link to strategic intent are seen as the motivators for building a future organisation committed to success. Where scope, time or cost are immovable, both the accountable senior manager and the responsible day-to-day manager have the courage and discipline to stick to what’s been agreed without caving to whims that add nothing to the future state.
Organisations that want to improve the way they deliver projects have a decision to make. Do they want to continue to buy off the shelf ‘quick-fix’ solutions that may provide some short-term improvement or invest time, effort and money into developing a culture that consistently knows how to get the job done.
Colin D Ellis is a project management and culture change expert, an award-winning international speaker and a best-selling author. His latest book ‘The Project Book: The Complete Guide To Consistently Delivering Great Projects’ (Wiley $29.95) has seen him travel all over the world to help organisations transform the way they get projects delivered. For more information about how Colin can help your team visit www.colindellis.com.
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