Did you know that 75 percent of executives anticipate their organization’s software projects will fail? While IT projects are notoriously challenging to plan and measure, industry studies reveal that failure is common and just as costly as you think.
No matter your philosophy on agile, scrum, waterfall, or some mix in between, we feel there are few things every good project needs to be successful.
Criteria for Success
Many software and technology launches fall into an awkward middle area where it’s difficult to know what success looks like. The reason for this might include a lack of planning, low buy in, or no definition of preferred outcomes.
PM Elizabeth Harrin writes that successful project managers “take the guesswork out… they define what success looks like so they know when they have achieved it.” It’s important to clearly communicate the constraints of a project and the measurement for success. In many cases, your success criteria will consist of a series of metrics built through collaboration with leadership and key stakeholders. No matter the type of project you’re running, everyone involved should clearly know what will be considered a win. Without that definition, it’s impossible to evaluate any project efforts.
Create Scope Definition
Projects can’t succeed or fail without clear guidelines around timelines, team resources, and other factors. PM’s will struggle to gain executive buy-in for the right talent resources unless they take the time to define project scope before launch. Understanding the scope provides you with the foundations for managing project change, risk management, and goal setting. CIO writes that defining scope should include the following standards:
Even agile projects need to clearly define the scope for a sprint. Of course, scope can change, but we can’t make intelligent decisions about scope change without first defining a starting point. Every project, no matter the size, has limits. If we don’t understand those limits, we can’t be successful.
Cast a Compelling Vision
Gaining adoption and resources for your project requires the support of management, senior leadership, and executives. A key to this success is gaining one or more project sponsors, who Dr. Terry Cooke-Davies states, “has as big an influence on the outcome of the project as the project manager.”
To gain this critical buy-in, creating a vision for success is crucial. The vision should be people-focused and clearly, describe the technology and business objectives. Project managers need to create a compelling picture of the future that energizes others and draws in support by highlighting the value added to the business. A great vision is a compelling picture of the future. Even for a brief agile sprint, great managers paint a vision that inspires action.
No matter the type of methodology used in the project, honesty and transparency are key. Communicating with the developers, testers, and other IT staff on a regular basis about progress and risks is very important. This also requires honesty about the politics of a project and relationship dynamics.
Transparency, according to agile pro Francis Adanza, is a baseline for collaboration. When a project team is working toward the same goals, you’re a lot less likely to risk wasted effort or miscommunications.
Recruit the Right Talent
When it comes to project outcomes, talent is the ultimate asset. A PM often plays the role of “general manager”, working to bring the right people to a team. Whether a long-term waterfall initiative or a quick 48 hours sprint, the right people on the bus will make all the difference. With the right people, a project has a much higher chance to exceed goals. Great managers are exceptional internal recruiters, as well as external team builders. They understand that defining the gaps in both technical skills and soft skills and filling them with great people will de-risk the outcomes of a project effort.
Leading projects for success is a tall order, and reducing success to only five rules is an oversimplification. Still, these five keys to project success hold true across all types of engagements and disciplines. Talent, transparency, vision, scope, and criteria are needed for effective execution. Ideas are nice, but all of the value is in execution. Delivery is everything.