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Six Keys to Project Success

By Bob Prenovost 

In recent years, the use of project management methodology for developing new products and services has become increasingly prevalent. Project management has spread beyond its traditional application in the IT and Construction sectors and is being used across a wider spectrum of industries. This is good news for the project management community as it creates opportunities for us to broaden our experience. However, there are warning signs that all may not be well. As organizations have come under increasing competitive and economic pressures, they are taking on more complex projects, often with resource constraints and higher levels of risk. Unfortunately, some organizations have not necessarily improved and adapted their project and risk management practices to address the changing reality. As a result, industry research conducted by The Standish Group suggests that project failure rates may have actually increased.

  • 31% of projects are cancelled before being finished
  • 53% of projects are completed, but with cost and/or schedule overruns
    • Average cost overruns of 189%
    • Average time overruns of 222%
  • Only 16% of projects are completed on time, on budget, and on scope
  • Over 80% of all projects will fail to deliver the desired organizational outcome

Senior leaders (e.g. CEOs, COOs, and Executive Directors) typically have the ultimate responsibility and accountability for ensuring successful project outcomes. Faced with this sometimes daunting challenge, how can you, as a senior leader and/or project sponsor in your organization, improve the probability of project success?

I have worked with organizations on projects with a broad spectrum of scope, budget and risks. Regardless of organization type, size or the complexity of the project, there are six key steps that senior leaders can take to significantly improve the probability of successful outcomes, specifically:

1. Establish a clear link between the Project and the organization’s key strategic priorities

  • How does the priority of this project align with other delivery and operational activities?
  • Are there defined critical success factors (CSFs) for the project?
  • Have the CSFs been signed off by the key stakeholders?
  • Is there a documented project plan that covers the full period of the planned delivery and all business change required?
  • Is the project timeline realistic and does it show critical dependencies such that any delays can be managed?
  • Are the lessons learned from previous projects being applied?

2. Proactively engage with stakeholders

  • Have the right stakeholders been identified?
  • Is there a common understanding and agreement of stakeholder requirements?
  • Does the business case take into account the views of all stakeholders, including end users?
  • How will stakeholders be managed? g., ensure buy-in, overcome resistance to change, resolve conflicts, and allocate risk to the party best able to manage it?
  • Has the existing organizational culture been taken into account?

3. Ensure that the project has senior management support & sponsorship

  • Does the project management team have a clear view of the interdependencies between projects, the benefits, and the criteria against which success will be judged?
  • If the project crosses organizational boundaries, are there clear governance arrangements to ensure alignment with the business objectives of all departments involved?
  • Does the project have the necessary approval to proceed from the project sponsor?
  • Does the Project Manager have the responsibility and authority to ensure that the business change and business benefits are delivered?

4. Use a proven project management methodology

  • Are recognized project management best practices being used to manage the project?
  • Are there adequate processes for estimating, monitoring and controlling total expenditures on the project?
  • Are there effective systems for measuring and tracking the realization of desired benefits and original objectives of the project?
  • Are the reporting processes robust enough to ensure that “bad news” is not filtered out of progress reports to senior management and the project sponsor?
  • If external consultants are used, are they accountable and committed to help ensure successful and timely delivery?

5. Ensure that the project has sufficient, skilled resources

  • Does the Project Manager have a track record of successful delivery?
  • Is there a skilled and experienced project team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities?
  • If not, is there access to external expertise, which can benefit those fulfilling the key roles?
  • Has sufficient resourcing, financial and otherwise, been allocated to the project?

6. Have a risk management plan in place

  • Has an analysis been undertaken of the probability and impact of any slippage in schedule, cost, scope or quality?
  • Are the major risks identified, weighted and treated by the Project Manager and/or project team?
  • Is there a risk contingency allowance in both time and cost?
  • Has a risk register been established?

As a senior leader or project sponsor it is a good practice to review all proposed projects in your portfolio with the above questions in mind. If any of the answers are unsatisfactory, taking corrective action immediately will improve the probability of a successful project outcome.

Copyright © 2010 by Bob Prenovost. All rights reserved.

 

About the Author

Bob Prenovost, AMPHI, PMP, LEED™AP, is a certified Project Management Professional who has successfully delivered major programs and projects for public, private and not for profit sector clients. He works with organizations and their senior leaders, enabling them to transform business strategy into projects and programs. Bob is a Principal with The Osborne Group. He specializes in Project & Risk Management.

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