― John Wooden, American basketball coach, who won a record 10 national championships over a 12-year span at UCLA.
According to McKinsey & Company, 17% of large IT projects go so badly they can threaten a company’s existence. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2019 reported that “organizations wasted almost 12 percent of their investment in project spend last year due to poor performance—a number that’s barely budged over the past five years.”
And this comment from the Standish Group’s 2015 Chaos Report: “We found that both satisfaction and value are greater when the features and functions delivered are much less than originally specified and only meet obvious needs.” In other words, deliver what your customers really want and need. Wow!
It’s the end of a decade and it seems not much has changed in terms of our ability to deliver change successfully. I have been writing articles for Project Times since 2010. 110 articles to be exact. We are now entering a new decade, the 2020s. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the lessons learned from the stories covered in those articles. Maybe we can launch a new level of project performance, where success is the new normal, where project failure is an aberration.
95 of my articles written over the last ten years were about projects and the people who ran them. Most were successful. The remaining 15 articles were about people, practices and possibilities. I’ve gone through those articles to extract the keys to project success. There are ten factors that dominate. You won’t be surprised by any of them. In fact, we have known about the importance of all these practices for years. But, for whatever reason, change agents and sponsors aren’t aware of or are having difficulty applying them. Consequently our project success rates languish.
So, to make it easy for you and other change agents and sponsors around the world to leverage those ten practices and deliver a new and highly successful normal, I present the Best of the Best Project Performance Profile for your consideration and use.
Using the profile is easy. Just rate each factor on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is low performance and 5 is high performance. A low performance rating poses a high risk of project failure. A high rating reflects a project strength. There are brief descriptions of what constitutes low and high performance.
For each of the ten factors, pick the number on the scale that best reflects your view of the project’s current status. Complete your assessment for each of the ten factors and total the columns – the number of 1 ratings, 2 ratings, 3 ratings and so forth times the value of the column. Then add the column totals together to get the project total. Any project with a total under 30 is in serious trouble. Any project with a total over 40 with no factors rated under 3 has a good chance of being a hit.
Next give the profile to your sponsors, some key stakeholders, some team members to see how their views compare with your own. Combine the results into an overall Project Performance Profile. Plan for the resolution of any factors that have an overall rating of less than 4, tackling the lowest rated factors first. Also, feel free to extend the use of the Project Performance Profile to all key stakeholders to ensure that all frames of reference are addressed and any identified gaps rectified. Your goal: A successful project delivery. To achieve that, look for a consensus rating over 40 with no factors rated under 3.
To help with your application of the Best of the Best Project Performance Profile, a copy of the spreadsheet is available from the Project Pre-Check Client Downloads page. There you’ll also find a number of checklists that offer much more granular assessments, from 50 decision areas to the full 125 item decision framework. Feel free to try them out.
Finally, if you have questions about any of the ten factors used in the profile, here’s an overview of each to help your assessment along:
- Sponsorship: Project sponsors need to own the change from inception to value realization. They need the organizational, political and logistical connections and capabilities to understand the impacts and make the change happen. Remember, sponsorship cannot be delegated. See the articles Are You Ready to Be a Sponsor and Fixing Uncommitted Sponsors for more.
- The Business Case: Vision, Strategy, Value and Impact: The rationale for the planned change needs to be presented in a comprehensive and cohesive manner and in a form appropriate to each target stakeholder. Whatever form it takes, it needs to describe the burning platform, the desired target state, the reasons for pursuing that target, the expected value to be delivered and the impact of the change on people, processes, practices and infrastructure within and outside the initiating organization. It also needs to address the relationships to the organization’s mission, vision, strategies, priorities and core values and expected/desired timing and implementation approach.
- Goals and Measurement: The development of specific goals and metrics to track performance needs to start at the top and be debated widely and thoroughly. When the goals and priorities are finally nailed, it can help galvanize commitment at all levels. That enables a reasonable plan that everyone can commit to and be measured by.
- Stakeholders: As John Kotter and Dan Cohen suggest in their book, The Heart of Change, "…the central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. All those elements, and others, are important. But the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people." The stakeholders are the key agents for the behavioural change needed for project success. Identifying and engaging those players is a fundamental requirement. For more on stakeholders see Just Duck, Bob and Weave for Great Projects!
- Core Architecture, Processes and Practices: Leveraging standard architectures, processes and best practices can improve performance and responsiveness, reduce costs, improve quality and reduce risks by a significant degree. Practices like risk, change and issue management are essential. Costing, scheduling, release, quality, test, benefit delivery, resourcing and communication planning and execution are foundational. Frameworks ensure that all vital information is captured and considered to produce robust and comprehensive solutions. For more on the power of frameworks and best practices, see It’s the Mastery that Counts. For more on architecture see Transforming Projects with Architecture.
- Opportunities and Alternatives: Things change. What wasn’t available or possible yesterday might now be an option. New or changed technologies, client priorities, costs and pricing changes can open up exciting new opportunities. By keeping their options open, by taking advantage of new opportunities or alternatives, teams may be able to offer their clients significant price/performance and service improvements without having to redo the basic plans and priorities. Always be opportunity aware.
- Scope and Requirements: As Yogi Bera, the great New York Yankee catcher once said, “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.” Scope and requirements are the Google maps of the project world. They help establish the breadth of the journey, the route the project will take and the features and services that will be delivered and experienced along the way. And don’t forget those pesky “non-functional requirements”, things like authorization, audit trail, correctness, continuity, compliance, service levels, security, ease of use, portability, coupling, scalability, flexibility and localizability. They are often the primary cause of project failure.
- Release Plan: The bigger a project or release, the greater the risk of failure. Craft a plan that delivers in small chunks, responds to priorities, reduces risks, improves quality and accelerates the delivery of benefits. That allows the organization to learn incrementally and enables changes to plans and priorities if conditions warrant.
- Team Resources, Knowledge and Culture: Change is delivered by people for people. Ensuring that the right number of resources, human and otherwise, is available at the right time, with the right knowhow, skills, capabilities and attitudes is the project force multiplier. For more on building supporting cultures see Cultivating Culture.
- Communication and Collaboration: Communication is the glue that connects the diverse players and personalities involved in a project. Collaboration is the mechanism that ensures all the parts of the change fit together to deliver the desired outcome. The information needs of each stakeholder and each role have to be determined and met. Plan it. Execute it. Measure its effectiveness. Revise and repeat as needed. For more on project communication and collaboration see Managing a Project’s Conversations
So, as you proceed through your project journeys, use the Best of the Best Project Performance Profile to build your project and change management capability and your track record of success. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.
Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.