Chapter 3: Shift

Read just about any statistical study on the performance of projects and you will see virtually the same reasons causing their failures and successes.

Could be Better

Several years ago, the Standish Group International, Inc. conducted a survey of thousands of projects. It discovered that 16 percent of projects finished on time and within budget. Ironically, it found that the larger the project, the lower the success rate. It is ironic because large projects, as opposed to small ones, often implement more formal project management. [1]

The Standish Group cited five reasons for project success: user involvement, executive management support, clear statement of requirements, proper planning, and realistic expectations. [2]

Since that time, the Standish Group has conducted several studies and found similar results with only a slight improvement in project success, rising from a success rate of 16 percent in 1994 to 26 percent in 1998. Once again, it noted that the larger the project, the smaller the opportunity for success. [3]

However, this time the study revealed an additional insight: A major contributing factor for success was having a competent and experienced project manager. I think it is fairly safe to assume that only a project manager can assure that user involvement, executive management support, clear statement of requirements, proper planning, and realistic expectations will likely occur.

The results of this study and others imply that the more project management disciplines you have the better, in terms of achieving project success. Applying more project management does not mean any greater guarantee of success, however. It can provide the groundwork for success, but it does not necessarily translate into success. In fact, more project management can add to the likelihood of failure.

In England, a research study was conducted of "runaway projects." The typical response was reacting to circumstances, rather than responding, by adding more of something or increasing pressure. The top five responses were extending the schedule, better project management procedures, more people, more funds, and pressure on suppliers. The results did not reveal whether adding more actually improved the performance of runaway projects. [4]

The pervasive attitude continues that more project management disciplines will mean more chances for success. A survey by the PM Boulevard on assessing project planning activities found that many firms only occasionally or never track the time spent working on tasks, never compare completion data to tasks , sometimes or never update schedules, or never update the project baseline. [5] The key question still remains: Will more necessarily translate into success?

My experience as an internal auditor of major development projects for a Fortune 500 firm opened my eyes to this very question. I have seen projects replete with the disciplines of project management. Plenty of in-depth plans and reporting mechanisms were implemented. Extensive reporting mechanisms were in place. Everyone had the latest tools. Executive support existed. Requirements were well defined up front. Yet, some of these projects were outright failures and only a few of them would be considered a success by traditional standards, e.g., on time and within budget. In addition, I conducted assessments and audits of projects that occurred using a minimum amount of tools, techniques, and disciplines. These audits raised the fundamental question in my mind: Why were some projects a success and others a failure?

The evidence is quite clear that project performance has not been stellar . More projects fail than succeed, especially if the criteria include delivering a project on time and within budget. The reasons imply that more of certain disciplines, techniques, or information will translate into project success. The problem is, however, that the reasons explained for the poor results are really symptoms of a much bigger problem. Many projects have succeeded with less, much less, than projects with much more. I believe the major contributor towards project success is something that is very difficult to measure but plays a pivotal role: project leadership. Greater user involvement, executive support, and proper planning, for example, will have a greater likelihood of occurring if good project leadership is exhibited throughout a project by the project manager and by stakeholders.

Why is it so difficult for many people to see the major contribution of project leadership to project success? A simple explanation is, of course, that it is difficult to measure. However, going below the surface reveals something much deeper than that: The prevailing paradigm of project management embraced in the professional bodies and educational institutions.

[1] Rosemary Cafasso, Few IS projects come in on time, Computerworld , p. 20, December 12, 1994.

[2] Rosemary Cafasso, Few IS projects come in on time, Computerworld , p. 20, December 12, 1994.

[3] Jim Johnson, Turning chaos into success, Software Magazine , pp. 30 “39, December 1999.

[4] Robert L. Glass, Short-term and long- term remedies for runaway projects, Communications of the ACM , pp. 13 “15, July 1998.

[5] Survey looks at what projects lack, PM Network , p. 11, September 2000.

Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 169

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