How to define project success?

The obvious answer is by measuring project success (i.e. scope, time, budget). Another answer could by measuring meeting projects objectives. I think the answer is not always straight forward. Lets have a look n some hypothetical examples.

Lets say you have a project with the objective to build a product. Your project is finished behind schedule and over budget. But the project was so good that exceeded the expectation so overall financially the profit was much higher than anticipated.

Your project is constantly ahead of schedule and under budget. But to achieve this status you pushed your team so hard so by the end of the project the best experts in your team are either burned out or had resigned.

You started with an unexperienced team, and you had bad estimates. You found the most efficient way to solve the problems, you worked on building he knowledge in the team and you always had a very good status reporting. You anticipated the delays and clearly communicated it to your stakeholders. But still, at the end the project was late.

My point is: you rarely are in the ideal situation and an absolute answer cannot be found. It always depends on the circumstances. Or, are this just excuses? Is the project success restricted to the triple constrain (scope, time, budget)?


Why I wanted to become project manager

In one of the companies I previously worked, at some point, I was transferring some of my  Project Management responsibilities to a colleague who had no previous PM experience(but great potential). At some point she asked a really good question. She asked why I wanted to become a PM and what did I liked about it. The question is still present in my mind today and I think every Project Manager should ask herself/himself this question from time to time. Actually, regardless of your profession, I think it’s a good idea to regularly ask yourself what do you like your job and why did you wanted it in the first place. Is your current situation as you expected when you first started? Would you choose the same path again?

I wanted try this profession from several reasons:

  • I am the kind of person that likes to have the global picture instead on focusing on details
  • I wanted to have more independence in my job
  • I like to motivate people, to make them work as a team and to arouse enthusiasm
  • I thought this is the right next step for my career

At that point I had the impression that this job will bring all this. Now I see that not only the profession is important but also how the organization see it. There are organization that value this profession more than others, where a project manager can fulfill his role as in the manuals and others where there are so many restrictions that makes you wander if you are truly a project manager.

Considering all my expectations, experiences and challenges I had so far in this job, giving the opportunity to choose again, I would definitely make the same choice.


Can a project manager be successful in any field?

There is a never ending debate on this topic. My personal opinion is yes. Of course there are certain conditions. First of all, the project manager needs to be willing to learn the basics of the new industry and the common language. Then the organization and the project need to support that (if your organization requires you to be an expert in that field you will probably fail on short term). Last but not least you need to have the domain experts onboard and you need to be able to trust them. And they need to be aware that you are not a domain expert but a project management expert.


Good Project Manager vs good team

I had a debate with a colleague once on what is more valueble for a project: to have a good and experienced team or to have a good and experienced project manager. It is clear having both is the ideal situation, but this is not always the case.  If you would have to choose between having an experienced team with a not so experienced project manager versus having an outstanding PM with an average team what would you choose? Each alternative would have it’s benfits from organizational groth point of view, bad PM with bad team will be clearly a strugle. But from project point of view what can be best?

In my view, a bad project manager can lead even a good team on the wrong path. This clearly depends on the organisation type, on how much power the project manager has and the level of management control in the organisation. But this is a real posibility.

On the other side, a good project manager will be able to identify the strenghts and weaknesses of his team and make a strategy in such a way that the potential is maximized. The project manager can develop plans to increase the knowledge of the team and  even bring external experts.

So giving the two alternatives, I would choose the first. What would you choose?

Hard or soft skills?

If you decide you need to improve your skills, what is the area where you will focus first? One answer (best answer) would be to analyze your strong and week areas an start from there. But this is not the purpose of my dilemma. What change in your skill set would have the most dramatic impact? What is more important to have as project manager? To have excellent project management technical skills, to know perfectly all processes, tools,methods, framework and to be able to apply them flawlessly or to have outstanding soft skills, to be a leader, motivator, communicator? 
In my view the soft skills are the focus area. They have the biggest impact on the performance of the team and the support you get from upper management layers.

Knowledge Base

Change management

The key message here is to never allow a change that is not controlled to creep into your project. Changes will come, that is a natural process. But you need to make sure the change is needed, all implications are understood and the change is documented. You need to make sure that your stakeholders understand your change.

Changes can come from different sources and you can not simply ignore them. Could be that the goals of the organization do not match anymore with the goal of the project. Other times something was change in the environment of the project. You can even have changes generated from inside the project in case something was forgotten or if someone has a better idea how to do things.

Regardless of origin of the change, you as the project manager has to do a few steps every time a change occurred:


You need to understand the change, the reason the change was generated and what are the benefits. You also must understand what is the impact. At minimum you need to see is the impact on the time, budget and scope. This is the minimum and for significant changes you need to see the impact on all project area, including human resources, communication, procurement, quality and risk management.


Only after the change is completely understood, you need to decide if the change will be included in the project or rejected. If the change is approved, it will be part of the project


Make sure that al changes are documented (even the rejected changes) and ensure that relevant stakeholders are informed.

As a general recommendation, change should be avoided as much as possible, as they are a potential risk to the project success. Whenever the change can not be avoided, it needs to be included in the proper way into the project, to keep the risk as low as possible

Knowledge Base

Risk Management

Put it to simple words, risk management means preparing for the bad things that can happen. You think about what can go wrong and find ways to minimize the probability or the impact or you make plans for what to do in case that thing will hit the fan, It is one of the area in project management with one of the greatest impacts on project success as it put you one step ahead of the game. So you  need to put the right focus on this activities.
Of course it is difficult to anticipate all the risks and to always find the  measures. But it always pays the price. If you are constantly learning from your projects, you and your experts will get better at this in time.

Plan Risk Management 

Have at least an idea when and how you will do it, who is involved and how will you track it. Decide how you will prioritize the risks, what is your risk tolerance level and what kind of measures will you be able to define

Identify risks 

This should be a continuous activity and should be done by everyone n the team. Best source of risks are the project assumptions and lessons learned from similar projects (your own or others). Allocate sufficient time for this, at the end it will pay its price.

Prioritize risks 

You do not need to have something fancy. Just rate the probability and the impact and make sure you keep the same scale for all risks

Prepare responses 

Should be done for high priority risks. You could try to avoid it, minimize the impact or occurrence probability or you can transfer it. You can also accept the risk, but this should be done consciously (it does not means to ignore risks you do not like)

Monitor risks 

You need to monitor the risks continuously to make sure the probability or the impact is not changing. You need to see if new risks are generated

Key takeaway 

The entire team should keep an eye open on identifying risks. Constantly monitor them and define appropriate actions.This will give you a better chance to achieve project objectives