Three tips for project management success

In the era of digital transformation, it’s likely you have at least a few projects on the horizon or already underway. We examine the top reasons for project failure, and how to increase the chances your next project will be a success.


You put blood, sweat and tears into a project you believed would help your organization. Sometimes, you’d catch yourself anticipating the celebratory cake and congratulatory pats on the back for a job well done. Alas, it was not to be. The project failed.

In the post-project learnings meeting (which should be held after every project), the reasons for failure will surely be discussed. It may be one of — or a combination of — the top three reasons cited by the Project Management Institute (PMI): a change in the organization’s priorities, a change in project objectives or erroneous requirements gathering.

In the era of digital transformation — as organizations try to figure out how technologies like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will impact their business — it’s likely you have at least a few projects on the horizon or already underway.

While it’s helpful to know why a previous project failed, it can be just as helpful to know how to increase the chances your next project will be successful. According to the 2018 Pulse of the Profession Survey, having an actively engaged sponsor, avoiding scope creep and maturing value delivery capabilities are the three top drivers of project success.

The survey found that projects with an actively engaged executive sponsor had a 40 per cent higher success rate than those without. “Effective project sponsors use their influence within an organization to actively overcome challenges by communicating the project’s alignment to strategy, removing roadblocks, and driving organizational change,” argue the study’s authors.

Sounds simple enough. But how do you ensure your executive sponsor is actively engaged? There could be any number of reasons why a sponsor was assigned to your project — but that sponsor may not be the best fit. Or, that person is sponsoring multiple projects and doesn’t have enough time to properly focus on any particular one, or simply doesn’t have adequate time on top of their other executive duties.

Some tips for engaging your sponsor — or keeping your sponsor engaged — are to identify their “cares” and ensure your updates focus on these. Be brief and concise in your interactions, and address any signs of disengagement.

Then there’s the issue of scope creep. We’ve all been there: when small tweaks and changes to a project start adding up and getting out of control. Indeed, the PMI found that 52 per cent of projects completed by survey respondents in the past 12 months experienced scope creep or “uncontrolled changes to the project’s scope.”

While scope creep is often a result of the three failure drivers cited previously, it can also be caused by lack of clarity or project complexity — or by adjustments required for advancements in technology. When it comes to IT projects, those are all key concerns.

So how can you adjust to complexity and the advancement of technology? The PMI survey cites a number of ways to control scope, such as taking an iterative approach, allowing for “shifts in delivery midstream.” That way, instead of making adjustments on the fly, you’re making “deliberate shifts in scope based on informed business decisions.”

The PMI’s third step to project management success is maturing your value delivery capabilities, which it defines as “the full spectrum of competencies that enable organizations to deliver their projects and programs.” These can help you adapt to changing market conditions and promote continuous improvement.

As important as these competencies are, the PMI finds that fewer than one in 10 organizations report having high maturity with their value delivery capabilities. Perhaps it’s because enhancing these capabilities requires an investment: sponsors need to invest time in developing the appropriate skills, and organizations need to invest in new technologies.

Not everyone in your organization necessarily understands (or respects) the goals of project management. And not everyone is receptive to change. Developing a culture that respects project management can go a long way to ensuring project success.

The PMI’s survey found that the highest performing organizations have a high delivery capabilities maturity: 87 per cent, versus five per cent of underperformers. Hopefully your organization is — or will become — one of them. And cake will be shared by all.

Image: iStock

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