The Successful Project – Is It Just a Myth?

Paul Naybour

Many of us will have embarked on a project with a very clear idea of what we want to achieve at the end of it. We are confident that we are organised, logical and capable of completing the project successfully. We have the right people with the right skills working on it. What could possibly go wrong?

The project could be relocating a large company to new premises, building and installing a new software system or, in fact, any project, large or small, in any industry sector. Whatever the project may be, we always start out full of optimism and belief that the project will be a success. In fact, this very optimism is, in itself, one of the main reasons that projects so often fail.

Optimism is, obviously, not the only reason for failure of a project but the personal tendencies and different agendas of the range of people involved (Customer, various contractors, project managers) are often contributing factors. But the main problem areas to avoid of if you want a genuinely successful project are:

  • Not fully defining the scope of the work
  • Risks that are not fully recognised or accepted
  • Assumptions that have been made by all parties involved without discussion or agreement with the other parties
  • Underestimating the costs in order to improve the chances of the project being given the go-ahead
  • Exaggerating the benefits of the project out of a personal desire to see the project completed

Why are so many projects unsuccessful?

So, if we know the potential sources of problems, why are so many projects not successful? They over-run in budget and/or time or, even if they don’t over-run they fail to fully deliver what was required by the client or customer.

Many of these projects are not disasters but they simply fail to live up to the expectations of those involved. This failure on the part of project managers to manage expectations properly means that the customer has to settle for less then they expected and be left with a sense of dissatisfaction with the whole process.

And the reason projects fail, in whatever way, is that they are not planned and managed in enough detail. Milestones are either not set correctly, or at all, or they are not adhered to. And very commonly the goalposts become moveable so that those involved in the project can delude themselves into thinking everything will be OK. Unfortunately this is rarely the case.

Do projects ever genuinely succeed?

Well, a project of any kind needs proper planning and management and the knowledge and use of special skills to keep it on track. Perhaps most importantly it needs someone at the helm who, right at the outset, has the confidence to insist on adequate resources and sufficient budget. A person who is persuasive enough to convince sponsors and customers that the end result will be a vast improvement on the status quo and that all the effort really will be worth it.

Of course, any decent project manager must then be able to deliver on their promises. But a well-qualified project manager, in whatever industry sector, with the right training, will be able to do this. There are a range of project management courses available in all sorts of formats from podcasts and online learning to traditional classroom courses to provide a project manager with the right tools and, just as importantly, the right attitude to deliver successful projects. So no, it isn’t a myth that a project can be successful, but perhaps they are rarer than they should be.

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