Project Success: more agile, less big bang

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The recent APM Conditions for Project Success survey gleaned some interesting insights into the current state of project management in the UK. The report concludes that there is broad agreement to 12 key success factors for projects. These are:

  • Effective governance and leadership
  • Goals and objectives
  • Commitment to project success
  • Capable sponsors
  • Secure funding
  • Project planning and review
  • Supportive organisations
  • End user and operators
  • Competent project teams
  • Aligned supply chain
  • Proven methods and tools
  • Appropriate standards

Furthermore the original research suggests that we should consider separating these success factors into two categories:

  • internal to the project/team (factors that the team can heavily influence) – those in bold above;
  • external to the project or concerning the project environment/context (factors that others outside the core team need to influence/establish, e.g. senior organisational management) – those not in bold above.

The outright success perception of projects has still not improved from many previous years – at around 20-25%*. My opinion is that we are still not doing enough to address the reasons for project success and failure at the outset of a new project – to the extent that I suggest that senior management should take the failure list and ask what specifically the team is doing to address/overcome the failure factors on the specific project.

An interesting finding from the survey is that lower value projects are more successful than large more complicated projects. My opinion is that these shorter, stand-alone projects are not only easier to manage but do not suffer from market/environment changes and end user cynicism of their larger longer term counterparts. I have been advocating for many years that we need to put more effort into breaking larger initiatives down into smaller projects that deliver change incrementally and rapidly rather than constantly being let down by longer term ‘big bang’ projects. Is this also possibly the time for the ‘business’ to also adopt more of an agile approach – rather than it be just the domain of IT.

A possibly surprising result of the survey was that it did not reveal strong or consistent differences between the sectors - ‘good projects’ have universal characteristics which are independent of their context. Getting the basics right and doing routine good practice into project delivery and management process is suggested by the survey as being the foundation of success.

Interestingly, the survey has identified a tendency for professionals in government, education and health sectors to give higher ratings to the importance of the success factors than those in other, commercial sectors.

Of the success measures offered, the ‘delivery to time’ measure showed the least success. The subsidiary success factor that ‘the project has realistic time schedules’ was one of those which was scored as having above-average importance but below-average likelihood of being in place in recent projects.  So, in my opinion, another reason why we need to rationalise that if a core objective of a project is delivery to time, we need to adopt a different approach – more time boxed or agile approach.

*APM's Conditions for Project Success research suggests that 22% of projects are wholly successful.

Martin is a member of the expert group involved in the early stages of the Conditions for Project Success research.

Download your free copy of the report.

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Project Success: collaboration is the only credible way forward

Martin Samphire

Posted by Martin Samphire on 19th May 2015

About the Author

Martin is the owner and Managing Director of 3pmxl Ltd, a consultancy specialises in helping clients to transform their business using structured P3M approaches.   

Martin is Chairman of the Association for Project Management (APM) Specific Interest Group (SIG) on Governance.  The Governance SIG has developed guidelines for Governance of Project Management, including 'Directing Change', 'Governance of Multi-owned Projects', 'Sponsoring Change' and ‘Directing Agile Change’.  He authored chapter 19 on Governance in the 2nd Edition of the Gower Programme Management Handbook (2016).  He is also a member of a voluntary group, the P3M Data Club.

He has over 30 years management consulting, change, project, programme and portfolio implementation experience in both the private and public sectors - in the UK and internationally.

Martin is a mechanical engineer by training and started his career in major capital project contracting in the petrochemical sector.

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