Sid Kemp is a business consultant and author of 10 books on project management and business success.
Project Success Matters
The fact is, in life and in business, most projects fail. But success matters. Whenever a project fails, time and money are wasted. Sometimes, lives are lost, as in a rescue mission after a hurricane or other natural disaster.
There are two types of projects. One is, according to business guru Joseph M. Juran, "A problem scheduled for solution." If a project like this fails, all the time, effort, and money are wasted, and the problem is still with us. The other type of project is an effort to turn a dream into reality. When this type of project fails, the dream is never made real. For example, earlier this month, a company with a great vision closed its doors. I know twenty people who lost a big part of their income, and there were hundreds of others. And the company helped thousands, but it is gone.
The fact is, over half of all projects fail—and that refers to well-designed, well-managed projects and includes, in success, projects that are delivered late and over budget. The true success rate—projects that deliver acceptable or wonderful results on time and under budget, is vanishingly small.
We can do much better. We do it by paying attention to all parts of a project, that is, by managing the nine areas of project management as they apply to our project.
In This Article
We'll look at:
- The definition of project success
- How to define a project goal
- The nine areas of project management
- How I applied these areas in a real-life example scenario
- The three phases of a project, including preparation, doing, and follow-through
The Goal: Project Success
"Project success" sounds like an awfully vague goal. Actually, it is not vague, but it is too general.
We can easily make it specific for each project. And in fact, that specific definition of the goal of the project is the first step to project success. The Project Management Institute (PMI) formally defines a project as "a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." Key elements are:
- Each project is temporary. It will not go on forever. It will start on a certain date and end on a later date.
- Each project is unique. Each project delivers some new, novel, different result.
- Each product delivers some specific result when it is done.
Defining the Project Goal
Here are some samples of project goals:
- We will have a wonderful wedding with 300 guests on June 20th.
- A new four-lane bridge between Marcos Island and the mainland will be open for vehicular traffic on November 30th for a cost of under $4 million.
- Our newest release of Amazing Planning software, version 10.0, will be released on August 20 for a price of $29.99, with all known bugs from the beta test fixed with a development cost of under $50,000.
As you can see, projects are both personal and also for business. You will also see that a good project definition includes what will be delivered, when, and how much it will cost. (There's a cost for the wedding, but that's personal. I didn't include it because it is none of your business.)
These examples illustrate the first three areas of a project that we must manage.
- Scope is a fancy word for what we are making.
- Time addresses: when the project will start, when it will finish, delivering results, the duration from start to finish, and the amount of effort (person hours) of work.
- Cost is a definition of how much the project will cost.
These are the first three areas of a project that we define, and we call them the Results (r) factors because they can be measured in terms of clear, definable results. For scope, either the goal is achieved, or it is not. With regard to time: Either it is one time, or it is late. With regard to cost: Either we stayed within budget, or we went over budget. To learn more about these results factors and why they are called The Iron Triangle, you can read How to Lay Out a Project Management Plan.
But the results (r) factors are not enough. If we work only with these three elements, our project will fail.
A Real-Life Example: The Day Trip
About four years ago, my wife and I had a really fun day. Being a project manager, I want to say that it was because I managed it as a project. Anyway, it's a good example of how project success relies on more than just the three results (r) factors: scope, time, and cost.
Our plan was to take a Saturday in June and pick lychees (we love lychee fruit) at a pick-your-own lychee farm about an hour north of where we lived. We wanted to bring home five pounds of lychees, which was enough to last us all summer. The lychees cost $4/pound, and gas for the trip was about $10, so the total project cost was $30.
Results Rely on Processes
It sounds simple. Most projects sound simple. But when you stop and think about how many things go wrong, that tells a different story. Here are a bunch of things that could go wrong, organized to illustrate the nine areas of project management.
- Scope. If we got lost and never found the lychee farms—no lychees!
- Time. If we got started late, we'd arrive in the middle of the day. Picking lychees in the hot sun is no fun at all. And, for a day trip, no fun is project failure!
- Cost. Oops! Lychees are a very sensitive fruit. They need a cooler and some ice, or they'll go bad before we get home. Add $5 for a Styrofoam cooler and $1 for ice.
- Risk. What if the car breaks down—a miserable day! Get it tuned up and checked out before we go.
- Quality. Pick with care! We want to bring home only the best lychees.
- Communications. In the car, half an hour from home. "Honey, do you have the map?" "What! I thought you had the map?"
- Human Resources. "Honey, time to get up and pick lychees?" "You go; I don't feel like it. Besides, my friend Barbara is taking me out to brunch." A day trip just turned into a divorce!
- Procurement. Phone call early Saturday morning. "Mr. Kemp, thank you so much for bringing your car in for a tune-up yesterday. Unfortunately, we got backed up, and we haven't started working on it yet." "But it was supposed to be done last night!" "I understand, sir, but, really, we're doing our best. Your car should be available at about five o'clock this afternoon. Thank you for choosing the Speedy & Reliable Car Service Center!" No car, no trip, no lychees!
- Integration. We're trudging back to the car with our lychees. "Honey, where's the cooler?" "I paid for it; I thought you carried it out of the store." "I carried it out of the store, and you put it in the trunk." "No, I opened the trunk. I thought you put the cooler in." "But you closed the trunk." "I closed the trunk because I thought you put the cooler in." "No, I put the cooler on the ground because you didn't open up the trunk fast enough." "So you're saying it's my fault that you left the cooler in the grocery store parking lot!" No cooler; hot lychees; angry wife.
As you can see, many things can go wrong in the process of even a simple day trip. How much more can go wrong on a $10,000, or 10,000,000, business project!
If we look honestly, these kinds of problems happen on every project all the time. And that is why most projects fail. But success is easier than you'd think—if you pay attention to all nine areas.
Where Do Mistakes Come From?
Why can so many things go wrong, even on a simple project?
The answer is simple: Projects are done by people. And people make mistakes.
Don't get me wrong. That's nothing to get mad about. People are wonderful, and I love them. But as project managers or business managers, we want to make room for people to make mistakes and still ensure project success. Good project management lets a team of great people all make mistakes and, together, succeed better than any could succeed alone.
Lychee Project Success!
In fact, our lychee day trip was a success. I got the car tuned up ahead of time, got directions and a phone number, and made sure the map was in the car. We bought the cooler and the ice on the trip out. It was fun and easy, and our freezer was stuffed with lychees for the summer.
There was an extra. We were relaxed on the way home, and we saw a lighthouse and took a tour of it. Technically that is called positive risk, the readiness to take advantage of opportunities to improve project results, reduce costs, or save time.
Click on the photo of the lychee to see a gallery of images of our day trip. Read on to see how this ties back to project management.
The Nine Areas of Project Management
The Project Management Institute calls the nine topics in the bulleted list above knowledge areas. And, from the perspective of certification as a professional project manager and the exam for certification, that makes sense.
In my twenty years of owning my own business and doing projects, I've discovered that paying attention to all nine areas throughout every phase of a project is crucial to our success.
In terms of managing each project to success, I see them not as areas of knowledge but as areas of management. These are nine issues we must manage to keep project work under control so that we can deliver results on time and under budget, delighting our customers. Figure #1 shows how the nine areas relate to one another, with the six process (p) factors supporting the Iron Triangle results (r) factors.
The 9 Areas Through the Project
Phase 1: Preparation, Including Planning
Every project has a life cycle, and the simplest life cycle has three steps: Prepare, Do, and Follow Through. The Preparation Phase includes planning and also getting together all the resources that we need. So, Kris and I decide to go on this lychee trip. We find the place and get the map; I get the car tuned up. We think things through and realize we need a cooler and ice. Preparation ends when we get in the car. Note that we prepare and plan for all nine areas. Our planning and preparation take care of scope, time, cost, quality, risk, communications, procurement, human resources, and integration.
Phase 2: Doing, With Tracking and Control
Doing includes the trip, buying the cooler and ice, not getting lost, picking the lychees, and coming home. The doing phase is about doing work, which is called execution in formal project management terms. It is equally about tracking and control. Execution without tracking and control is like driving down the highway and paying no attention to the exit signs. We miss the exit, lose time, run late, and waste gas. Tracking to tell us where we are and control to stay on course is essential to the doing phase. Tracking and control go hand-in-hand with execution. Execution with tracking and control carries us to success in the Doing phase.
And again, we want to track, control, and execute all nine areas all the way through the Doing phase. Don't leave any area of project management out of the picture.
Phase 3: Follow Through: Deliver Delight
The final phase is follow-through: If we come home and leave the lychees on the kitchen table, they will go bad. If we throw them in the freezer and forget we have them, we will not enjoy them. If we don't clean out the cooler, it will stink the next time we want to use it. So clean-up and delivery are essential. In project management, these are called closing processes. We make sure that each of the nine areas is done and there is nothing left to do. We pay our bills and confirm contract completion, closing procurement. We communicate with the customers and ensure their delight, closing on scope and quality.
When we close all nine areas of the project well, we realize the benefits of success: We open doors to new work and great client and team relationships.
Sharing Our Surprise: The Lighthouse
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on June 29, 2012:
Thanks Simone! Most people don't know PM is fun - and even tasty!
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on June 28, 2012:
Lychees and lighthouses! Hahaa, what fun. In fact, this was the most enjoyable article on project management I've ever read- and yet I've learned quite a lot from it! Thanks for the wonderful overview.
Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on June 26, 2012:
Hi Johan, I agree 100%. All this planning takes very little time. A half hour of planning and preparation gave use a great day trip. Now, I'm using all these PM tools to do a great job writing hubs, and, now that I'm up and running, it takes almost no time at all. Project Management is more a way of thinking than an activity that takes up time.
Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on June 26, 2012:
Thanks, INFJay. It's fun to use my PM skills from business to make life easier!
Johan Smulders from East London, South Africa on June 26, 2012:
Wow, some good ideas but sometimes we just need to do it!
Jay Manriquez from Santa Rosa, California on June 26, 2012:
A very informative and well written article on the project management topic. I especially appreciate relating the process to an everyday type of project.