How to make 'every project a winner'

There's more to success than just bringing a project in on time and within budget, says the Management Forum for Excellence's...

There's more to success than just bringing a project in on time and within budget, says the Management Forum for Excellence's David Bell. Julia Vowler reports

What makes a successful IT project? For David Bell, director of the Management Forum for Excellence in Software Development, a project is not necessarily deemed successful purely because it comes in on time and within budget.

All too often, he warns, despite heroic efforts by the project team to deliver, they will find "the fruits of their labours are deemed inadequate, inappropriate or quite simply that they have failed".

"Sad to say," reminds Bell, "most senior managers expect, naively or otherwise, delivery on time and budget. Isn't that what project managers are for?"

So, how do you get the golden glow of success to settle upon your sweated brows?

Bell offers some pointers for success:

  • Like beauty, project success is in the eye of the beholder - in this case the stakeholders who will determine 'success'. Find out who they are.

  • Understand the project's objectives - there is always more to it than delivering on time and budget. The stakeholders hold the keys.

  • Make sure you know what really is wanted - the (official) requirements almost certainly won't tell the whole story, but combined with the views of the stakeholders will come close.

  • Find out what will constitute success and what will be seen as failure - stakeholders are not always rational - there will almost certainly be more to it than meeting the objectives.

  • Understand the priority your project has within the organisation - it's number one on your list, but how does it fit in with other projects and objectives? Understanding this should mean fewer surprises in the tussles for resources.

  • Expect to be asked for changes. Senior managers change their minds according to the needs, as they see them, of the business. It doesn't mean the change is warranted but the request almost certainly is.

  • Changes affecting the project, either those formally requested or those you come to understand, may cause you to be surprised, annoyed or even disenchanted. Provide the 'top cover' that prevents your team taking on any of these characteristics.

  • When there are challenges beyond the immediate scope of the project enlist the support of stakeholders - it's in their interest that you and your project succeed.

  • Present your project in terms that are relevant and important to the organisation.

  • Ensure that the people who should know about progress, challenges and successes get to know - keeping lights under bushels is not required!

  • Contact David Bell

  • Read more on IT project management