The Secret to Project Success

My wife would be the first to tell you that I spend far too much time analysing "everything"... and I guess she's right - whenever I see a subject line about the ‘Secret to Success’, I wonder: "If there really is a secret to success, why are 'experts' still selling tickets to come hear it... surely the secret is out?"

I've been a Business Analyst for nearly 20-years now, and it never ceases to amaze (and disappoint) me how many IT projects struggle to 'succeed'. I've seen projects reach an early termination due to budget or time over-runs; e-commerce websites that never break-even; CRM installations that die the painful death of 'user un-enthusiasm' (or maybe 'dis-enthusiasm'); and several projects that simply dis-establish or de-scope, with no reported reason.

I know I'm not alone with this experience - a 2015 IT project survey run in the US found that 55% of organisations surveyed had experienced an IT project failure in that year. I personally feel that is a completely unacceptable statistic - far too many organisations are expending effort (and money) in projects that don't deliver. As an IT professional, I feel we need to address this elephant in our project room.

So, what is the secret to success? How do we stop IT projects from failing?

I don't profess to be any kind of project guru, but from my experience I can see one common denominator amongst all of the failed projects I've observed. In my opinion, the solution to the problem of ‘Project failure’ hides within its definition... For a project to ‘fail’, it must not ‘succeed’. For a project to ‘succeed’, it must ‘succeed’. Obvious, really - but here's the clincher: Do you know what your IT project must do to succeed (or "how should your project look at the end to be deemed a success")? I believe the main reason behind failing IT projects is that they don't have a clear success definition - there's no measurement at their outset, and thus, there is a high risk that the project team as a whole are not aiming for the correct goal.

There's that old adage that we find ourselves telling our teenagers - "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail".

I'd like to add a little to that: "If you fail to plan success, your plan will fail".

I'm sure many of you will be reading this, saying that your project is fine - you know exactly what is needed for your project to succeed. And you're partly right - everyone in a project has a picture of success in their mind - the issue is that the picture is often not the same. Hence, we are not aiming for the same target. In this case, if everything goes swimmingly, we often get a pretty good project - it's when things start to deteriorate that the lack of success planning raises its ugly head. The Project Owner is decrying the bugs list; the Project Manager is decrying the budget over-run; the Developers are decrying the lack of testing; the Tester is decrying the slipped deadlines, and they don’t have time to test it all before the scheduled launch.

If you know what that feels like – check in with me next month for some useful tools that help produce an effective, comprehensive, universally agreed success definition for your next project… destined to be a great success!