Published in “Project Times” website, September, 2010
Click here for original article.

As successful project management is integral to thriving in today’s environment, what could be considered a lingering recession or somewhat of a recovery,  the company that can deliver project results with absolute assurance will lead the race.  Since I’ve seen too many businesses with fabulous ideas and limited ability to deliver project results, I thought it would be interesting to conduct a quick survey to find out the top three keys to ensuring success.

And the survey says:

  1. Clarity of Goals. There are countless examples of project teams with a confused set of goals.  The executives typically think everything is crystal clear; however, when the rubber meets the road, it has somehow become unclear.   Those who delivered the expected project results had absolute clarity.I’ve found in leading and participating in countless project teams that this is not nearly as easy as it seems, which is most likely the reason most executives cannot understand why the goals have become unclear.   Typically the goals are clear at the start; however, as conflicts arise, the waters cloud up. For example, on one client project, the objective was clear – reduce inventory.  However, during the implementation, conflicts started to arise with supplier reliability, customer requests (outside of agreed-upon service parameters), and space constraints.  Depending upon how each of these conflicts was handled, the project team had a different/altered perception of the project goals. For example, if the executives weren’t willing to discuss supplier reliability with the supplier, the project team altered its perception – reducing the importance of inventory reduction in favor of maintaining the current supplier performance.  On the other hand, if the executives addressed supplier reliability immediately, the project team confirmed its understanding of the importance of the inventory reduction goal.  Further, in this case, depending on whether the supplier conversations were handled in a collaborative or a competitive manner, the project team also altered its understanding of the goal. 

    I’ve seen examples where, even if the supplier didn’t immediately improve upon reliability, if the project team knew it was being addressed (and typically in a collaborative manner) and was considered important by the executives, the same confirmation of the inventory reduction goal occurred.  I’ve been involved with enough inventory projects that I’ve seen each of these situations occur more than once.  Of course, my job as a consultant is to demonstrate the impacts of these types of decisions on the client’s performance, and so this is just the start.

  2.  Ability to Execute – A unanimous key to success is the ability to execute.  It is amazing how many well-qualified project teams there are that cannot execute.  It is not nearly as easy as it sounds.Execution relates directly back to the organization of the project (how much planning and thought went into who does what, when, how, in what order and why) and hard work.  There are no short cuts.  The devil is in the details. If task A must be completed before task B can begin, and task A is on the critical path, it is vital that the task owner understands the importance of beginning the task on time, communicating roadblocks, and communicating with task B’s owner.  It’s as simple as that.  If you find someone excellent at execution, appreciate him/her!
  3.  Follow Up – Last but not least, follow up.  This is closely tied with execution; however, it was noteworthy enough to warrant a separate item.  Follow up can be the blocking and tackling of following up on project tasks, communicating with project team members, coordinating with other interested or required parties, etc.  And it can also be follow up to clarify project goal confusion and follow up on overcoming roadblocks outside of the core project team’s scope of responsibility. Thus, leadership is essential.Those projects with leaders who are intimately involved in enough of the details of the project to understand the complexities and roadblocks well enough to address them with the appropriate people, succeed.  This often leads to confusion. The project leader doesn’t have to personally perform each of the tasks in order to make this happen; however, the project leader must be involved enough and familiar enough with the details, the critical path and the project team members.  It’s a tricky balance, yet the key to success.

In my survey, these top three keys to success were present in every significant success, and they were present in 80% of those cases with some level of success.  Are you focused on these keys?