The Top Ten Keys to Making Projects Successful
The typical project
manager has lots of responsibility and very little authority. To make things
even more challenging, the typical project plan bears little resemblance to
reality. Achieving successful outcomes under these conditions is not easy.
Remember and apply these key reminders and you'll significantly increase your
odds for success.
1. Find the deal-breakers up front.
Constraints (the deal-breakers) are non-negotiable limits within which the
project must be planned and implemented (e.g., no more than $300,000 total
budget, Legal must approve all contract wording, etc.). Constraints won't
necessarily hurt your project; but finding out about them half way through the
project could be deadly.
2. Surface and test assumptions early and often.
"It ain't what we know that hurts us; it's what we know that just ain't so."
Assumptions are a necessary part of any project. Untested assumptions can result
in disaster (e.g., "I assumed the client was OK with late deliveries. It wasn't
a problem last time."). Build actions into your plan to test all assumptions.
3. Find and feed the gorillas.
Strong influence players do no value-added work on a project, but through
their influence in the organization, they can make or break your project.
Sometimes, they can play a positive role (e.g., champions, sponsors and
advocates). In other cases, your failure may be their success. In all cases,
find out who they are and what it will take to make them strong supporters or,
at least, to neutralize their negative impact. Whenever possible, get them
involved, ask their advice and keep them informed.
4. Make the team own the plan.
The best plans are the ones that are developed by the whole team. Make it an
event—use a special meeting to get the team together to develop a network diagram
that shows dependencies between team members. Assign one person to keep it
5. Get everyone on the team to think "sideways".
Make sure everyone manages their own hand-offs. Get them to communicate with
internal/external suppliers to clarify their needs. And before that, have them
communicate with internal/external customers to make sure they understand what
is expected of them.
6. Build the right scoreboard.
What's measured is what gets managed. This is no less true for projects than it
is for organizations in general. Make sure the project customer is involved in
developing measures for quality, cost, schedule and customer satisfaction. If
you can influence what goes up on the scoreboard, you have a measure of control
over your success.
7. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Use formal communication to get information to everyone. Use informal
communication to fill in the gaps. Use project review meetings like a huddle
between plays in a football game. Set ground rules, document actions and measure
results of different communication methods.
8. Manage project changes: Just say YES!
Don't tell the client why you can't do it. Tell them what it will take to make
it happen. At best they'll decide on their own that it doesn't make sense. At
worst, they'll appreciate all you had to do to satisfy their request.
9. Watch out for Murphy.
Look for the gremlins in the dark: the potential problems that could derail your
project. Use preventive action to remove the causes of the big problems. When
that's not feasible, identify contingent actions that can be used if the problem
10. Set people up for success.
Individuals and teams can be set up
for success (or failure), depending on how well they are prepared to contribute
on a project.
Make sure everyone on the team:
- Knows what is expected of them
- Has the
resources needed to get the job done
- Knows how their work affects that of
- Knows how to do what is asked of them
- Is rewarded for doing a great
In summary, taking the steps suggested here will not guarantee project
success, but they will certainly help—a lot!
Conversely, not taking them will almost certainly lead to rework, conflict and
finger pointing along with the predictable cost and schedule over-runs.
For more information on how to use these keys to
unlock the project potential in your organization -
email us or call 800-621-5202