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Improving Project Success

Projects take many shapes and forms. From personal day-to-day things, to multi-year corporate capital investments, a ‘project’ can be almost anything. Some projects fail, others succeed. How can you ensure success? Let’s look at a few things.

The Cost of Mismanagement

As of 2018, 9.9% of every project dollar spent was wasted due to poor project performance (pmi.org). This loss can be attributed to many factors, some of which include:

  • Poorly defined or ever-changing scope
  • Unsupportive/agnostic support for the project
  • Inadequate management/reporting of project execution

Beyond money being lost, there are other intangible consequences. Those include: decreased team motivation, the loss of confidence in management decision making, and the start/proliferation of the “this-is-just-another-fad-movement-and-it-won’t-be-implemented” conundrum, among others.

Create a Clear Project Scope

How many times has your whole team decided “this is EXACTLY what we want to do”, and a month later you realize you want to do something else?

If the team had initially decided they needed to build a torpedo, but later they decided they needed to build a surface missile, that project has failed. What if the team agreed to build a torpedo, but they had no experience in building torpedoes? They’re likely to be in big trouble.

Here are a few considerations when creating the scope of a project:

  • Scope should be solving a problem; it should not be simply creating something (i.e. don’t create a project without understanding the underlying issue being solved)
  • Check, and double check, that all stakeholders understand what’s to be executed
  • Create detailed deliverables/milestones
  • Don’t “gold plate”, solve the problem. If you need a hammer, don’t build a Swiss Army knife
  • Ensure you have the right resources to execute the work

If you ever need to change scope, be open about that change and go through the list of considerations again. Also, ask yourself why the scope changed during the execution of the project, there’s likely a lesson learned that something was missed the first time around.

Buying in to Success

Did you ever have to constantly try to convince people that what the team was doing was worthwhile?

After all the stakeholders have aligned on the scope of your project, it should be easy to have everyone on board and ‘bought in’ on the success you’re about to achieve. This needs to be bottom-to-top, ALL stakeholders and team members are committed to the success of the project. If you’re having issues getting, and maintaining buy-in, there needs to be a re-clarification on the scope of the project and why it’s being executed.

The ‘why’ is very important on maintaining buy-in, especially if a project takes longer to execute than anticipated. Keep the ‘why’ of the end goal in mind, consistently reminding everyone the business impact of the project being delivered and the important problem(s) it’s resolving.

Manage Openly and Proactively

Have you ever found out about a project issue 1-2 weeks after the issue arose?

A lot of projects have a weekly status or touchpoint meeting, with no other method of reporting/feedback being incorporated. This is a mistake. To truly manage a project proactively, there need to be tools/methods in place to quickly escalate issues before, or when, they occur.

When managing a project, every team member needs to be encouraged to report problems as quickly as possible. This openness can create an environment where blame isn’t put on the person, but rather focuses the team on the issue. Oftentimes, time is wasted due to a person not wanting to ‘sound the alarm’ until they’ve found the solution. The delay that’s caused by this mentality can have huge impacts to the overall success of a project and should be discouraged.

Tips on open and proactive management of a project:

  • State issues directly, don’t focus on the person working the task with the issue
  • Be as transparent as possible when reporting project metrics/stats and provide context on how issues are being investigated and/or addressed
  • Thank team members for bringing issues forward and provide additional resources to them when possible
  • Follow up on issue resolution as quickly as possible, celebrating the win of that issue

Additional Consideration: Exploit Your Experts

As a project manager, are you the expert? Maybe, but not likely. A great music producer knows how to take an artist’s lyrics, rhythmic preferences, and manipulate it into something beyond the initial vision. As a project manager, you’re not necessarily an expert in any one thing, but you are an expert in being the ‘non-expert’. As a ‘non-expert’, you are in the best place to exploit your experts by tying them together in ways they’d maybe not think of themselves. Try to have team members pair up in ways where their skills can compliment each other and see what successes you can achieve.

In summary, projects take many shapes and forms. If you want to boost your chances of executing a successful project it’s important to maintain a clear scope (what’s being executed), ensure everyone stays bought in to success, and proactively stay open and honest with everyone. Keeping these considerations in your mind from start-to-finish should lead to cost savings and performance improvements. It’s such a great feeling when a new product/tool/system is delivered and can unexpectedly move your company/team forward faster than imagined.

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