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The secret to project management success

Success rates are climbing thanks to the adoption of more formal processes to manage projects.

IT project failure is a problem that’s plagued organizations for years. Whether it’s the implementation of a sophisticated customer relationship management system or the rollout of new email software, getting the job done — on time and on budget — has been a perennial struggle.

Among the top reasons initiatives fall short of expectations are poor planning, inadequate tracking, lack of leadership and inexperienced project managers.

As organizations look to add value and sharpen their competitive advantage, they invest significant amounts of time, money and resources in technology to help them get there. It makes sense, then, that the better grasp they have on project management, the more likely they are to achieve their goals.

A 2013 poll revealed that half of all businesses had experienced an IT project failure. Three years later, not much had changed, with 55 per cent of respondents reporting a failed project.

The Project Management Institute’s ninth annual survey shows the situation is finally improving owing to the adoption of more formal processes to manage projects. The survey found that companies that invest in proven project management practices waste 28 times less money because more of their strategic initiatives are completed successfully.

Experience counts

The secret to project management success

While completely separate endeavours, project management and writing, for example, share a few interesting commonalities. Most people intuitively think they know how to do both and it’s often believed that each is easier than in actuality. In addition, it’s commonly felt that you don’t need any special skills or training to achieve a positive outcome in either field.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Far too many organizations ask neophytes with insufficient experience or formal training to lead complex projects, says Simi Ahluwalia, Principal Consultant with Assurant 360 Consulting Services in Mississauga, Ontario.

“Organizations need to bring in the right people to get the job done,” Ahluwalia says. “When a project is delayed, not only does it pay through additional resource time, but also through unrealized benefits. Bring in top talent and let them deliver — you’ll save in the long run.”

While poor preparation is the top reason projects fail, recruiting inexperienced project managers is another major factor in a negative outcome, according to

“You need to assign people to management roles who have matching education and experience,” it suggests. “In some cases, and perhaps more often than not, inexperienced managers are given projects. They may be very capable of managing projects, but the key is to keep them at a level where they can succeed. Otherwise, you will set them up for failure.”

The secret sauce

The secret to project management success

Defining goals is another important element of success, and that means tracking a project from beginning to end, and at all points in between. But staying on track doesn’t mean you have to re-engineer your entire organization, Ahluwalia says.

“What’s important is that we’re managing project risk and have insight into dependencies that cross over various work streams,” he says. “As your work breakdown structure is organized by work stream, deliverables and ultimately work packages, the schedule should get to the level where we’re able to capture dependencies that overlap and require multiple team members to interact.”

For the highly complex projects Ahluwalia manages, he creates a detailed view in Microsoft Project for his own purposes so he can have a sense of the nuances involved and manage those interactions as they arise. For the various stakeholder groups involved, he creates rolled-up versions so that they can stay on track as well.

Get formal

The secret to project management success

The Project Management Institute reports that organizations with Enterprise Project Management Offices (EPMOs) or Project Management Offices (PMOs) have a higher rate of success in projects, with almost 40 per cent more meeting their original goals and business intentions.

The strategic role of the EPMO and PMO includes responsibility for aligning projects in the following areas:

  • Business strategy
  • Monitoring progress
  • Optimizing delivery
  • Navigating risk
  • Driving benefits realization
  • Enhancing governance and accountability
  • Management talent

The PMI survey found that 81 per cent of successful organizations have a PMO, compared to just 59 per cent of underperformers.

If an EPMO is too ambitious for your mid-sized organization, Ahluwalia suggests hiring seasoned project managers who have a wide range of experiences among portfolio, program and project management — and giving them the autonomy they need to influence and execute effectively.

“Be diligent with your program and project management practices, particularly in areas of planning and risk management.”


Up Next: Getting your team from zero to super-productive in the shortest time possible.

Patricia MacInnis

Patricia MacInnis is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Regina, Saskatchewan. She is the former editor of national industry publications including Computing Canada, and has written extensively on IT for a broad range of print and online publications.

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