With so many methodologies and years of experience being applied to modern projects, why are so many still unsuccessful? Even with a talented team and a delivery approach following all the best practices of the day, there is an underlying and often unsaid challenge that undermines even the most well defined projects. This missing piece of the delivery puzzle is not directly addressed by any of the popular methodologies, process frameworks or systems, so this article will explore what is rarely discussed or managed effectively.
The success of a project is measured by its adherence to defined feature (or ‘scope’ in a broader context), quality, cost and time constraints, where each constraint cannot be changed without affecting the others. In traditional project approaches, time, cost and quality (to an extent) are seen as variables used to deliver a fixed set of features.
More recently, particularly with Agile and Lean approaches, quality, cost and time constrains are deemed fixed, with features being the only variable. Regardless of the approach, success is initially measured by these four constraints.
Once a project has been delivered to these constraints, including meeting feature and quality acceptance criteria, the project output, e.g. a new campaign website or mobile app release, may have its own success criteria, usually defined during inception as Expected Benefits and Critical Success Factors. Alternatively, the Expected Benefits can be included within the project scope and time constraints themselves and assessed using key performance indicators (KPIs).
With project success defined by the agreed constraints, the next step is to agree the approach to deliver to these constraints. At a minimum, there will be a Project Approach that includes the agreement of the methodologies, processes, templates, tools, roles and responsibilities. At a lower level, the Technical Approach will include agreement of the technical requirements, various architectures, technologies, standards and test plans.
For internal technology projects, for example a feature-rich content management system (CMS), there will be a Change Management Approach to help transition individuals and teams to the new technology and business processes.
Where does it go wrong?
When the Project Constraints and Delivery Approach has been defined through collaboration (rather than in isolation), it should just be matter of formally agreeing and communicating this with all relevant stakeholders and team members, collectively driving hard to the finish line and celebrating success!
Not always. Even with formal agreements and effective communications in place, stakeholders and team members soon start pulling in different directions with their focus seemingly on one or two project constraints and different approaches to delivery. In other words, regardless of what is defined, agreed and communicated, something is inhibiting stakeholders and team members from fully buying into the agreed Project Constraints and Delivery Approach.
The missing factor not being managed is a different set of constraints, personal to each stakeholder and team member, that may not be aligned to the actual Project Constraints and Delivery Approach. Professional ambitions, personal preferences and daily challenges all contribute to our view of what success is, which will impact feature, quality, cost and time constraints and the Delivery Approach in different ways and to different extents.
The following list gives example views of key stakeholders and team members. In reality, each role will have multiple viewpoints that may change throughout the project.
- Senior Director – deliver on time to honour commitments over quality
- Creative Director – blow the budget to win awards, attract talent and more business
- Product Owner – add more features within the same timeframe over quality
- Product Manager – add different features and use a different delivery approach
- Advertising Manager – include as many ads as possible to generate revenue
- Technical Lead – trial a new technology that may improve future development
- Developer – refactor the code to make future development easier and quicker
- Project Lead – deliver to the agreed Project Constraints and Delivery Approach with feedback and improvements
Projects are still failing in large numbers, regardless of the methodologies and frameworks used, due to the individual success constraints of stakeholders and team members not being aligned to the defined Project Constraints and Delivery Approach, i.e. why, what, when, who, how and how much. There must be absolute clarity, honesty and agreement, upfront and throughout, to ensure everyone is on board and pulling in the same direction.
We recommend honest conversations are had with project stakeholders and team members about their personal goals, challenges, commitments and skills, particularly when they may not be aligned with the project, so potential issues can be identified quickly and managed effectively. Effective management can range from continuous conversations and close collaboration, to coaching, training and including project objectives and agreed practices in personal development plans.