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Friday, August 18, 2006

10 Unbreakable Rules for Project Success

10 Unbreakable Rules for Project Success
Mark Lilly and Tim Rahschulte

Why do so few projects succeed? Despite the decades of increasingly complex attempts to manage projects, far too many managers overlook the 10 Unbreakable Rules for Project Success. As outlined below, these common sense guidelines hold the key to increasing your success rate and delivering greater consistency across your project's lifecycle.

Rule #1: Know what you are doing

Take a deep breath and a half step back. See where it is you wish to go and know what it is you are trying to accomplish. See how it may be coordinated or in conflict with other project efforts across the organization. Focus to the point where you can be deliberate.

Rule #2: Know why you are doing it

Just as it is important to understand what you are doing, it is equally important to understand why you are doing it. This adds perspective and dimension that the project exists for reasons beyond itself. Research has shown that when a project results in deliverables that are designed to meet a thoroughly documented need, then there is a greater likelihood of project success. So managers should insist that there is a documented business need and justification for the project before they agree to consume organizational resources in completing it.

Typically, projects are born from one of two notions: (1) there is an external force such as a market demand or opportunity, or (2) there is an internal force such as operational inefficiencies or manufacturing throughput problems. Either reason requires a project focused work effort. But from a project perspective you need to know why you are doing what you are doing. This has impact on creating metrics, identifying stakeholders, and (possibly most important) creating a comprehensive plan for execution. Is the project necessary? Does it align with the organization's purpose and achieve major goals and objectives for the firm? Can you see the positive change it has on the organization and its customers? If yes, proceed.

Rule #3: Be prudent, honest and prepared

No organization has unlimited time and funds, so be prudent and deliberate with each project task and action. Do not waste people's time for it is precious and expensive and as such should be spent on positive and productive endeavors.

There has not been a single project that has succeeded under the guidance of the dishonest and yours will not be the first. Trust in your team. Be proactively upfront and honest.

Remember Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors only the prepared mind" so forever be prepared. Projects are too dynamic to depend on luck and chance to guide your way. Prepare to fail. Prepare to be surprised? Prepare for the 'what-ifs' you are sure to face throughout the lifecycle of your project. And, prepare to succeed.

Rule #4: Play to your strengths

This rule takes on many themes. But in short, know what you know. This is true when looking at the organizational level and the project level work. How well do you remember your Economics from college? In 1776, Adam Smith argued that trade is a zero sum game in his great work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations. Attacking mercantilist assumptions, Smith explained differences in countries based on their abilities to efficiently produce goods, making way for the idea of absolute advantage. This advantage is apparent when a producer of a good is more efficient than any other, thus gaining a superior edge over competitors.

This theory still holds true today and is applicable not only from country to country as Smith argued, but also from organization to organization. The point is, focus on your core competencies and outsource or partner as much as possible with experts who posses a superior advantage.

Rule #5: Know how to navigate

You need a plan and need time to plan. You must be able to envision the final result of the successful project, break that result down into manageable milestones or phases of work and define the critical path to each milestone. This means breaking down the vision of the project into understandable pieces for everyone on the team.

Some enterprises follow a predetermined methodology for all projects. Many enterprises do not. If you do not have a project methodology, know there is no easier way to fail than by just winging it. The next easiest way to fail is to manage every project in a different way. With this approach, you are sure to achieve lackluster performance and retain zero project-based knowledge. Find or create a methodology that works for your organization's business and within your culture, then manage and refine it as you grow.

Your plan needs to break down each work effort, allocate appropriate time for full completion of each task and assign an owner responsible for successfully accomplishing the task. Please note: you, as a project manager, need to understand that individuals responsible for task completion must have the knowledge, skill and tools to achieve their tasks.

Knowing the who, what, when is not confined to only the project team. What about the stakeholders? They have roles and responsibilities too and therefore need coordinating. Whether they are acknowledgers, advisers, critiquers, or vetoers/approvers, you have to coordinate their efforts and make sure they understand what they need to do, why, and when.
Projects are fluid, dynamic, real. Hence, unexpected events are sure to arise and deviate the team from its original plan. These occurrences do not mean the project outcomes are destined to be lived out only in the theories of blue skies. Rather, they are mere occurrences that must be addressed by intelligent people who can navigate precisely through problems and issues.

Rule #6: Know how to communicate

It is imperative to know how to communicate effectively, whether it is written, verbal, visual, body language or the like. It may be better to know that assumptions run wild on project teams; and assumptions foster perceptions; and perceptions create an errant reality. This is what will challenge your communication skills. Since teams are comprised of individuals, all with unique thinking capacities, you must be able to communicate to a diverse group of folks with differing perceptions, beliefs and cares. To best communicate, do so in detail and be colorful. That is, quantify your statements and use examples and stories when possible. And, make sure your statements are based in fact.

To keep the team informed of project work underway and forthcoming events, sponsor regular project meetings and share regular project status reports and/or scorecards. Remember, projects do not always remain on course. To that end, not all communication is favorable. If bad things happen, communicate the bad and reinforce the risk/issue mitigation plan that is in place. Do not shy away from needed any communication, but know when to stop talking and get back to acting upon the information just shared.

Rule #7: Know how to succeed

Projects are meant to succeed. They are meant to make organizations better and customers more satisfied. The first step to satisfying all project stakeholders is to believe you will succeed with the project, and instill that mindset into your team members.
All projects ride on three pillars of strength: people, resources and knowledge. When you have professional personnel, enough time and money, and the right information, quality results ensue from each project engaged. However, if you have too few or too many of these, you will struggle or worse.

Further, projects tied to a key organizational goals or major objective seem to have a greater chance of success. If your project is not tied to an organizational goal, refer to Rule #2 and make sure you understand why you are involved with the project.

A positive attitude is a must. Project leaders and team members must believe a project can succeed or it never will. As well, the organization must be set up to succeed, with every project underway addressing the goals of the firm. As each project succeeds it reinforces the organization's goals and strengthens its chances for success.

Rule #8: Know how to fail

If you want to fail, compromise one of the three pillars described in Rule #7. Trust me, compromising any one of the three will do just fine.

This rule is not meant to be a way out of difficult projects. Again, projects are supposed to succeed. This rule, rather, is here to get you to know what to look for in a failing project and be able to respond quickly with the mitigation plan. Projects fail for many reasons: lack of commitment from senior management; no clear vision; deliverables are not defined; no plan for success let alone quantified risk mitigation; decisions are made based widely on assumptions rather than business data and fact; stakeholders are passively involved; no understanding of a work breakdown structure; and poor communication.

If your project seems to be slipping away, review this list and enact change. Get back on course. Deploy a sense of urgency and strive to succeed! If despite your valiant efforts the project is beyond repair, learn from it. Glean the invaluable knowledge of failure and next time you can avoid these missteps on your way to success.

Rule #9: Know when the project is over

At the end of each phase and at key milestones throughout the project's lifecycle, the project is atop a fulcrum and is poised to continue or not. It is at each of these major points that the project manager and other sponsors need to pay close attention to the metrics and dynamics of the project. Are the goals being met? Has the environment or reasons for the project changed? Can we still succeed? It is at these points these questions must be answered. If all is well, the project goes on. If there are concerns, the project may be better off coming to a brisk halt.

Do not be afraid to stop a project if the reasoning for continuing is no longer sound. It is far better to terminate a project early than to push through to the end with a product or output that satisfies no one and has cost the organization dearly. And, this says nothing about what it does to the project team's psyche. If it is not going to work, kill it. Your time and money are better spent on some greater cause.

Rule #10: Know how to learn

Your project is not a success unless you can learn and share your knowledge with others for the organization at large to grow. Learning is constant. It is an asset to be leveraged and a sustainable differentiation for the modern day organization. It is undoubtedly true, knowledge is power. The only means in which knowledge is derived is through the process of learning. Learn to create knowledge. Leverage knowledge into power.

The success achieved from project management is more than simply enacting a methodology standard or carrying out a set of template-driven exercises. Success, rather, is achieved through the intelligent application of sound principles guided by experienced project professionals. If this sounds like common business sense, it is. As measured, all successful projects have similar attributes for us all to learn from.

These are the unbreakable rules of project management.

ProjectSteps Note: I found the above document in my Project Management Library of Whitepapers and found it made some great points. Do you maintain a personal library of Whitepapers, Website links, etc? You should. Of course, a Project Management library does you no good if you don't reference it on a regular basis.

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