Defining project success - go get it

Defining project success – the importance of your Project Mantra!

This may be a little hard for a project manager to understand.  You can clearly see if you met your goals.   Unfortunately, perception matters.  You can deliver each objective on-time, on budget and still some project sponsors will not be happy with the results.   It can be well documented and clearly stated in the project plan, but who reads those anyway? 

If the objective of your project is to improve customer service by creating a new system for tracking customer issues, what that means to the various people involved in the project can be very different.  It is the project managers job to clearly define and articulate exactly “what” will be accomplished. 

As we know a project is made up of three guiding elements; scope, schedule and budget.  Early in the project planning stages you and project team will meet several times to talk through these three elements.

There will be many discussions, debates, closed door meetings.  At the end you will hopefully have a solid understanding of what you will be accomplishing (the scope), how long it is going to take (the schedule), and what you need to get it done (the budget) – Your project plan.

You will likely have a few opportunities to review this with the project team and the project sponsors.   You will document this in your project plan, and everyone will agree.  You will happily move forward thinking you have a good plan in place.  

What happens is that during the duration of the project?  The project itself, will evolve.  The schedule will change, the scope may expand (most likely), and the budget will be adjusted.  What was agreed to in those initial meetings is now different.

If you have done a good job as a project manager, you’ve met with the appropriate parties and re-set expectations.  These are the areas you have control over.  This is the core of project management.  But just because you have told them once, or twice, that the target has changed, doesn’t mean they remember, or even get it.

The project team and the project sponsors will most likely have their own ideas of how they will define success for your project. They may expect that the new system you are putting in place will reduce workload, be easier for customers to use, or make them coffee and toast in the morning.

They create a vision in their head – maybe based on what you’ve described – but most likely their vision is based on what they “want” – not what you are providing.

So, how do you get in their head and reset these unrealistic expectations? 

Project Mantras

Identify the key points that you need to be clear about. Think about scope.  Think about the words you hear from your sponsors.

What are you doing and not doing.   You are looking for quick “tag-line” type sentences you can repeat over and over.

“Changes to the internal processes are not being addressed in this phase of the project.”

 “Remember, this is only phase 1 of our system update; this project is only addressing the online customer interface – so our customer experience will be improved by March.  Improvement that will reduce internal workload are not being addressed in this phase.” 

 “Customers will have a new “look and feel” to the interface starting March 1.”

Now, repeat these, every chance you get.  Say them out loud, add them to emails, make posters, write them on the bathroom walls.  Keep these ideas at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Studies suggest that repeated statements are viewed as more truthful.  In simple terms: frequency breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust.   Not only will your project team and sponsors remember the statements you repeat they are more likely to believe them.

You may have several project mantras.  Repeat them over and over.  Keep stating the obvious.  Over time, your project team and project sponsors will be saying them along with you.

Project success is perception, equally perception can mean failure.  For more information on the action you can take, you may find the article “How to stop perception killing your project or PMO” of interest.