Project success is on the rise. For the first time in five years, the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) 2017 “Pulse of the Profession” global survey reported substantial improvements across the profession, with project management that saw goals met and budgets maintained. In short, the profession is enjoying more overall project success.
With this success comes a decline in overall lost dollars; however, the price attached to project failure remains high. For every $1 billion invested, the PMI estimates, organizations waste about $97 million on average. Project success is critical to organizations – financially, because proven project management practices waste 28% less company money, and strategically, because project success translates to initial implementation and process change success.
While every industry may come with some specific needs, these five elements are vital for project managers to understand in any space to ensure project success:
A clearly established set of goals and details must be defined, in writing, to help the project manager establish a timeline and a budget. When created up front, this project outline equips the project manager to maintain control of the project overall, even if things change during implementation. One key aspect of defining goals is to understand what is within the scope of the project – and what is out of scope, which is often referred to as “scope creep.”
Articulated project goals also aid the project manager in staffing the project with the right team of experts. For example, if the scope of a project is to integrate IT training software into the new employee training, the project manager doesn’t need to include a finance professional.
A defined goal also allows the project manager to determine the method appropriate for executing the project. For example, a project aimed at improving a process may benefit from the Six Sigma approach, whereas a new product launch may apply a waterfall method.
Successful project managers navigate relationships throughout the life of a project. Daily, they must foster good relationships among team members to execute the work. The project manager should lead their team without overpowering them, listen actively, engage all team members, and ensure the trajectory of the project continues to move forward.
Project managers must also manage relationships with all project stakeholders to ensure project success. Although numerous stakeholders can impact the course of a project, and navigating them may feel more like management, the PMI emphasizes these interactions should truly be a relationship.
The first step in building these relationships is understanding the dynamics of the stakeholders involved in the project, across leadership, project team, clients and “auxiliary bodies.” Then, the project manager should assess their level of influence and the individual’s attitude toward the project. Are they an advocate? An opponent? Neutral? Once the project manager has mapped out each stakeholder’s stance on the project, they must then use negotiating and relationship building skills to influence and inspire stakeholders to support the project – and to help problem solve, facilitate and compromise when necessary. The project sponsor is a key relationship to help support the project manager, as this person has the clout to align resources and influence other business leaders, as well as the position to help to champion the project to his or her peers.
Although there are many methods for project management, the Agile project management method has been gaining traction in the last several years. The majority of organizations (71%) now report using an Agile approach in at least some of their projects, according to the PMI. With this methodology, project managers apply short sprints to their project, reviewing with stakeholders and adjusting based on that feedback dynamically.
Even if the team isn’t following agile project management as a method, all projects benefit from some degree of dynamic adjustment when issues occur. It is the responsibility of the project manager to resolve issues, and potentially adjust the overall project plan as a result. Anticipating potential pitfalls can help contingency planning, so you are ready to address issues as they arise.
Communication is a core component of project success, both for internal teammates and external stakeholders. Project managers should foster open communication with both parties, encouraging team members, stakeholders, and clients alike to raise concerns and express feedback. Succinct, frequent team meetings support productivity, can motivate the team, and create a forum for the group to detect emerging issues quickly. Project managers can shape the dialogue around the change their project will incur by clearly and effectively highlighting the benefits of the new product, process or services their project will yield. In some cases, this may entail internally championing a process; in others, inspiring potential buyers to adopt a new or different offering.
Invest in future project success – and build on past successes and failures – by reflecting on the course of the project and determining areas of success and opportunities for improvement. This review shouldn’t be isolated to the project manager, but should include seeking team, stakeholder and client feedback on how the project went, what worked well, and what did not.
Applying these practices to every project will support continued project success – and continue to minimize funds wasted by project failure.