Why It’s Okay to Lie About Project Failure

Photo of a banner with the word "SUCCESFULFAILURE".

What Is Project Success?

What is project success? In this post Martin Webster argues that it is often much more than simply managing project benefit viability.

Increasingly, organisations are facing transformational change and projects have become the means of choice for implementing such change. However, there is a prevalent concern with projects because too many fail to deliver even though project management best practices appear to be used.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill

Project management best practices do not guarantee project success nor does their absence guarantee failure.

Yet their presence should increase the likelihood of success.

So what should you be doing about this? And how successful are your projects?

Project Success and Project Failure

This all depends on where you’re sitting in the organisation and how much detail you want to take in. For instance, does your organisation report project success when you know (or feel) differently?

When implementing cultural change absolute success isn’t always paramount — but perceptions generally are! Let me try and explain…

Some executives view projects like a car journey guided by a satellite navigation system; it doesn’t matter how many wrong turns you take along the way because you will reach your destination and no matter what happens you always arrive just as the odometer and clock display zero!

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if executives spin a little tale. It’s a question of perspective. Executives are (or should be) looking at the big picture. They need positive outcomes to encourage and bring about cultural change. After all they’re not going to be successful if they taint their change initiative with a touch of pessimism and failure.

So what should those involved in project delivery do?

Since this group of people is involved in the detail they should know about slippage, missed opportunity, or unfulfilled requirements. Consequently, it’s easy to be critical and pick fault. But again I ask, was your project a success or did it fail? Maybe it did fail if you use the following factors to decide project success

  • Completeness of planned deliverables (scope)
  • Delivery according to the planned schedule (time)
  • Meeting of financial objectives (cost)

Invariably though, projects will deliver shades of success and failure for each of these attributes.

But things happen and plans need to change.

That’s life.

Therefore I suggest that project success should also become a measure of keeping things under control and learning (and doing) something about the mistakes.

The cardinal sin — and a serious error of judgement — is to not learn from mistakes.

By having the courage to accept failure and move on, you are more likely to minimise your losses, learn from your mistakes, and make the organisation more efficient, more quickly. – Audrey Apfel

Therefore, I recommend that project managers take a positive stance when reviewing performance. Blow your own trumpet — collude with the executive if that’s beneficial — and learn from your shortcomings and continually improve.

It’s better to have your glass half full rather than half empty.

What can we learn from project failure?

What have you learned from project failure? What do you do different?

Creative Commons image courtesy Paul Keller.

Last updated 20 June, 2015 1 CommentShare the knowledge …


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