Why Projects Succeed: Introducing the Blog Series

Why Projects Succeed is a blog series in which Slalom Business Architect Roger Kastner sheds light on key factors behind the art and science of successful project management and invites readers to discuss how they apply across different environments.

Slalom Consultant Roger Kastner

Roger Kastner is a Business Architect with Slalom Consulting who is passionate about raising the caliber of project leadership within organizations to maximize the value of projects

Project failures are easy to spot, between the employees running in opposite directions, the yelling, the crying, and the smell of burning money. Yep, it’s easy to see when a project fails and if you ask five project team members, you’ll easily get six opinions as to the source of failure.

But what about when a project succeeds? How easy is it to attribute success to one or two significant contributing factors? Most likely, there were several contributing factors, and as studies on project success rates show, the stars were probably aligned too.

Ever wondered what those common success factors are, beside celestial positioning? I have. I’ve been managing projects for over 15 years, I’ve worked with a lot of smart Project Managers, and I’ve been picking their brains about their experience in attempt to identify those factors. I’m happy to share with you what I’ve learned in this series of blog posts, which I’m modestly labeling, Why Projects Succeed.

Successful Project Management is dependent on the blend of art and science, and Why Projects Succeed is intended to capture both the art and science factors and engage readers in a discussion about how those factors apply to various experiences and environments. Success factors for each Project Manager and each project will be different. No single factor will guarantee success. There may be significant overlap in many of the factors, like scope control and risk management. But this discussion is not meant to generate a strict recipe. As we each strive to raise the caliber of our game, this discussion will help us assemble, choose and apply our shared knowledge to positively impact our projects.

The seed for Why Projects Succeed started when I attended a Keynote speech by Jim Johnson at the 2003 PMI Seminarworld conference in San Francisco where Jim outlined the top ten reasons why projects are successful and the top five reasons why projects fail. Mr. Johnson is the president of the The Standish Group and he should know what he’s talking about. The Standish Group collects project data from thousands of IT projects each year as part of their CHAOS Study.  While Mr. Johnson’s list of factors why projects failed was entertaining—most were rooted in organizational failures, and if you found yourself in one of those organizations my advice would be to polish the resume—the success list was much more actionable, useful, and valuable.

Three years ago, my Slalom Consulting colleagues Clare Pedersen, Trish Peterlin, and I were talking about the “secret sauce” for what made projects successful and I remembered the Mr. Johnson’s keynote speech. We created our own list of success factors based on our experience and started facilitating the discussion amongst Slalom Consultants. We updated the list based on feedback from our participants. The discussion has turned into a course I teach focused on helping participants create their own list based on their experience and environment and utilize the list when planning, managing, and reviewing their projects.

And now, I’m bringing this discussion to the interwebs.

Why Projects Succeed will provide a new success factor every other week. You’re invited to join the discussion on how this factor works or doesn’t work for you, and learn about ways to incorporate the factor into your practice.

By no means do I have The Definitive Answer that fits all projects. And I’m sure I’ll occasionally discuss a “success” criteria that will not fit the situation you are in. But let me hear from you about what works for you, what doesn’t, and why. Your individual experience and success factors are as valuable in this conversation as my own. I don’t claim to hold all the cards, and as Kenny Rogers’ said, “You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em.”  In other words, I welcome the opportunity to learn from you, my readers.

Just for kicks and in case you haven’t seen it, the Standish Group’s 2009 CHAOS report showed that…

  • 32% of projects were successful (on time and on budget),
  • 44% were severely challenged (significantly over-budget or late) and
  • 24% were outright failures.

That means that unless you and I find some way to beat the odds we have only a 1 in 3 chances our current project will be a success. I’ll take those odd, though, because we’ve got a blog full of success factors and we’re not afraid to use them!

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

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