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Not Managing Perceptions: The 10th Waste of Project Management

“Project Quality Management must address the management of the project and the product of the project”

(p.180, PMBOK, 3rd edition)

In an earlier blog entry, I presented the Nine Wastes of Mismanaged Projects, according to Lean Project Management gurus (Howell, Macomber, Koskela, Bobek). I said then that I saw a 10th waste adversely affecting project success: Not Managing Perceptions. Today, I will briefly explain why I believe that not managing perceptions is a major project waste, and why it has to be taken care of for our projects to be successful.

The sentence from the PMBOK quoted above is one of the most important messages on successful project management. It means that project quality, a strong indicator of project success, does not only depend on the physical characteristics of project deliverables, it also depends on HOW they were delivered. It means that a project is not only a destination, it is also a journey. It means that in matters of quality, BOTH the journey and the destination are important.

The success of a journey is really a matter of perceptions. Perception can be defined as “ an individual’s interpretation of the world and of one’s experiences, this interpretation being coloured by that person’s model of the world and past experiences.” Obviously, unless they are shared, discussed and somewhat managed, individual perceptions of what’s going on during a project will be very different. Perceptions of why we do the project, of what is important, of how well things are going, of project completeness and success, etc. will all differ. The project management community already wonders how to manage risks in the face of individual risk perceptions. But perceptions differ not only with respect to risk issues; they differ with respect to every single project issue. And all project communications can also be plagued by this important factor, or waste, since what is communicated is not the message transmitted but, rather, the message perceived.

If the perceptions of individual project stakeholders are not confronted with facts and, if these facts are not then discussed, shared and interpreted collectively, it is close to impossible to agree, among other things, on the same perception of the project journey or on the same perception of what project termination means. Hence, the stakeholders cannot agree on project quality and ultimately on project success.

In North America, according to the Standish Group1, only one out of three projects (29%) are considered to be successful by the stakeholders; individual perceptions of project success are just not aligned. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Britain’s Constructing Excellence program2 concludes that, of the projects subjected to the project management approach proposed, 85% are successful; this approach focuses on ensuring better integration of all stakeholders by putting together extended project teams. Are these European projects more successful because they produce better deliverables (the product or the destination of a project)? I don’t believe so! I believe this is because the Constructing Excellence program ensures that project managers also take care of the quality of the management of their projects (the journey); they get all their stakeholders together, they share, they discuss and, ultimately…. they manage perceptions.

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