Three steps to PM heaven: Defining Sucess

For a very long time people have argued over what defines project success. An answer is simple – success like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Analysis of some beholder’s viewpoints show there are 5 themes in the key contenders for ‘the’ definition of a measure of success:

  1. the investor wants a return on their investment within the constraints that are their commercial reality – right thing done
  2. the PM’s boss wants the thing done right and to promises of time cost scope and quality – a quiet life
  3. the technicians in the team want an interesting challenge that grows their skill base – a better resume/cv
  4. the recipients of the project’s results don’t want change and disruption to comfortable day-to-day routine – most specifically negative effect on any bonuses or incentives
  5. the PM wants everyone else to be happy for as much of the time as possible, and hopefully everyone simultaneously when the project moves through implementation, closure and final payments (even for in-house notional-payment projects)

So step 1)

Establish in the heads of the technicians a shared understanding of what is wanted and what constraints really exist. This requires the investor’s presence to express what they want: What PRINCE2® calls a product breakdown structure and PMBoK Guide® calls a work breakdown is really useful here. What Dimension4 calls a Recognition Event® is even more useful. Encourage the debate about how to deliver within as many simultaneous real-world constraint as possible – this does not need the investor’s presence: what most of use think of as a work breakdown structure is useful here, so is a precedence diagram then a resource levelled Gantt or flow-chart or Kanban board are all useful here.

Step 2)

Take the trade-offs between concurrent, contradictory constraints back to the investor to arbitrate between choices. Repeats steps 1 and 2 as needed for your product life-cycle either ‘traditional’ or ‘agile’ or ‘lean’ or any hybrid. Move on whenever everyone is content with the level of uncertainty they are signing up to, pause when they are not.

Step 3)

Send the technical folk off to do the ‘how’ stuff and take the investor to discuss with the recipients how new bonus and incentive arrangements will work and raise the topic of how current working patterns will be transitioned. Repeat 1 & 2 as opportunity, threat or issue arise.



Three steps to PM and PM’s boss getting what they want too .

Ok so I cheated a bit because we really do need 1) access to relevant decision makers (financial or technical) at decision times or they must have explicitly delegated authority, 2) we really do need to be able to estimate if we are to forecast otherwise we have to accept uncertainty and do lots more monitoring and rerouting and 3) we really do need to be able to determine what is truly achieved, done, finished and judged fit-for-purpose by the recipient’s.

Hmm – maybe these are the three true steps?


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