Often, project delivery is seen like a lottery and hitting a milestone in the schedule is as rare as an eclipse. Throughout our working lives we participate in, lead and watch or are on the receiving end of projects, small and large, regional or global and most of them seem to have this common thread of “yes we are on track” shortly to be followed by “we have pushed back the deadline/milestone”.
But, now and then a project comes along that seems to effortlessly go to plan, stay on budget and no unforeseen events impact staff or deadlines. What is the magic behind these projects? If we could only catch some of its pixi-dust and sprinkle it liberally on our own projects our stress levels would decrease for sure.
It’s possible to catch some of this magic by closely analysing, with an open mind, what is happening in a successful project. When you step back and analyse the component parts of a project, you see them consisting of two major parts, People and tasks.
Worth noticing is that both failing projects and successful project have people and tasks. So what’s the difference in a project that is delivered on time/budget and one that is not? It’s obvious we say, “the person did not have the skill to do the job” or “clearly it was an impossible task or deadline” or maybe “you had really good people on your team”. Given that with a measure of hind sight it’s so obvious and easy to see that we are certain of failure if we do not have the right people and set realistic tasks and deadlines, where does it go wrong in most projects?
Could we apply this newly acquired knowledge in advance as a “fore sight”? Yes we can. What I have seen over the years are three common issues:
- Try to meet an immovable deadline, it just has to be done before this date.
- We do not have any dedicated resource, so he/she will do it in his/her spare time.
- Some key people simply do not want it to happen or are more interested in furthering themselves than the project.
From this insight we can create a small formula for predicting project success at the outset, based on
“Project success is the outcome of able and willing people completing worthwhile and achievable tasks”
On a scale 1 to 5 (where 1 is bad and 5 is great), we can rate each person as to skill level for the task and his/her willingness to get the task completed on time. Likewise we can rate each task according to it’s worthwhileness and achievability. Thus you have project success defined as being the number 12 (3+3+3+3=12) or put simply; Ability + Willingness + Worthwhile + Achievable = 12. Using this formula, looking at the tasks and the resources at hand we can tune the teams, tasks and deadlines to increase the probability of success.
It is sometimes possible to make up for short deadlines by adding more people or more skilled people. Likewise if the resource is unchangeable it’s sometimes possible to achieve success to allow more time than first thought for task completion or re-arranging the tasks. Similarly it’s sometimes possible to work around unwilling resources by minimising their involvement and a lack of resource by extending deadlines. The real issue is to start with an honest and clear assessment of what we are about to start, instead of being sucked in to the general happiness of “getting the deal” and “just get on with it”.
So, how do you manage to deliver successful projects?