Is your project a success?

Sometimes it’s difficult to say with certainty whether a project is a success.  Throughout the implementation of the project you may have had technical difficulties, time constraints, poor team dynamic, etc. All these come in an can cloud our judgment regarding the overall success.

There is a famous misconception that many project managers gurus and PhD owners propagate on how to measure the success of a project. Here are some of the measurements I found:

  • Scope
  • Budget
  • Team satisfaction
  • Quality of work
  • Customer satisfaction

These are not metrics of success. They are constraints that one or a group of person decided to dictated to the implementation team to navigate between. You manage to respect all these? Great work! But was the right problem solved?

Constraints are usually flexible. For example to ensure objectives are meet you can:  change the scope of the project (add/remove features), shrink or add extra funding, reduce or increase work quality.

Objectives precise and static. Team Canada wants to win the gold medal in Hockey at the next winter Olympics. Throughout the year they will train towards this objective. During the Olympics you don’t see their coach telling them they now need to win gold medal in curling.

The best way to determine objectives is to work our way backwards. Start by defining the end goal. In what discipline do you want to win your gold medal?

Here are some good questions that will help you determine what are your objectives:

  • What are we trying to achieve for our clients?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What is the desired return on investment?
  • How will this help improve our reputation?
  • How will this affect the way our customers, investors and competitors perceive us?

If you haven’t started your project, it can be very tempting to talk about tools and methodologies to us. For example, you might define one of your goals: build a mobile application and API to increase our readership. This is very limiting. You might not need a mobile application or even an API. At this point, tools and methodologies  are irrelevant at this point, since they are a means to an end.

Here are some example of clear objectives:

What are we trying to achieve?
Our current platform is very buggy.  It takes us days of testing before being able to deploy safely. We want to reduce the number of bugs and the time required between each deployment.

Why are we doing this?
Most music service that recommend music do it very poorly. We want to change the game and become market leaders in defining customers taste and suggest them relevant artists based on their taste not on what their friends listen to.

What is the desired return on investment?
The expected ROI over the next 6 month is expected to be 10 thousand dollars. In three years, it will represent 20 millions.

How will this help improve our reputation?
By increasing the productivity of our assembly line by 40%, we will be able to dedicate more resource to quality control. Our customers will appreciate the reliability of our new high end tools.

How will this affect the way our customers, investors and competitors perceive you?
Our online image is getting outdated, by creating a more engaging website and mobile application our investors will see us as an innovative company who means serious business when it comes to delivering on time quality content to the Canadian Citizens.

Take a few minutes and do the exercise and write them down. This will be your most important piece of knowledge for your project.

Not only will it help you assess your project’s success throughout the implementation and at completion. It will help you put things in perspective as you explore ideas, methodologies and implementation path! Even better, it will give a meaning to the implementation team and motivate them.

If you haven’t been able to define the goals of your future, on going project stop everything immediately. Take the time to go back to the drawing board. You probably don’t have a project and will waste a lot of time, money and generate much frustration for you, your team and your partners.

Success all comes down to achieving the desired end result. Olympic athletes set their objectives to win a gold medal in a specific sport and their sponsors evaluate their success on how often they climb on the podium. Not on how many times per week they trained or what type of food they ate.

Do projects really fail or do they just disappoint?

I recently had a conversation with some project managers regarding project success and failure. In this conversation, multiple arguments were brought up and motivated me to write a series of articles on project management. This series will deal with the following topics:

  • Why do people feel the need to diminish the importance of failure?
  • How to determine whether a project succeeded or failed?
  • How to measure the progress of a project?
  • 10 signs that your project is in danger.
  • From “Mission Impossible” to “Mission Accomplished”
  • Learning from failure.

Now that I have blown my horn and done my selfish promotion, let’s focus on the motivation behind this first article. The question that shocked me in this conversation was:  Do projects really fail or do they just disappoint?

At first sight, this question seems harmless but it brought many questions to my attention:

  • What is the motivation to diminish the importance of a project failure?
  • Will threats to the project be noticed ahead of time?
  • When questioned by the CEO regarding the progress of the project, will this project manager tell the truth or find endless excuses to justify the lack of progress?
  • Is feeling better about ourselves more important than delivering the project?

The society has been conditioning us that failing is acceptable. We give consolation prizes to losers for their effort, participation prizes to attendees, awards to players who lost the most units in computer games. For my non Canadian folks, since 1999, in hockey, we give 1 point to the team who lost in overtime for managing to survive this far. What is the difference between losing the game with 5 seconds to go during regular time and losing within 5 seconds of overtime? Really, none. In both cases, the team lost the game. However, the team that lost in overtime feels much better because they managed to get 1 point which helps them maintain their ranking. How does this motivates players to excel? Standards should be raised, not lowered.

From a human resources perspective, I can see some reasons that may tempt us to diminish the importance of failure. A company invests a lot of resources in recruiting competent employees. Getting them up to speed, maintaining high motivation and productivity levels, teaching them how their business works. Because of these factors, when we are faced with issues, we decide to tone them down in order to protect the investment. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in fear of losing our employees. Bottom line: we want them to stay engaged no matter what value they generate.

Failure leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It leads to questions, doubts about your ability and ultimately guilt. It’s a very unpleasant feeling and we don’t like to put anyone in this situation. What most people fail to see is that failure is an opportunity to learn. If you are honest with yourself and coworkers, and try to understand what lead to this situation trough deep questioning, you will see that it can be a rewarding learning process. Before you can reap the reward, you have to first admit that there is an issue.

In this case, diminishing the importance of failure by using softer terms lowers the value of the experience we can gain from this situation. It also sends the the following message to our peers:

  • It’s OK. You did your best.
  • You will have another chance tomorrow with another project.
  • It’s not your fault, we will do better next time.

By doing so, we make failure more acceptable to us and to our peers. This is a very slippery slope. Once you start accepting the presence of 1, 2, 3 disappointments in your project, you condition yourself to their presence and you are heading much faster than you think towards failure.

Telling the CEO of a company that his/her financial and credibility loss is a simple deception is like telling the parents of a child that failing the school year is a minor inconvenience.

You can build on small wins to climb a mountain, but you can also tumble downhill with small disappointments. It always starts with small steps.

ConFoo 2013: Call for Papers is Now Open!

ConFoo is one of the most important web developer-oriented conferences. ConFoo 2013 will be held on February 25 through March 1 in Montreal, Canada.

We just openConFoo Web Techno Conference. February 25 - March  1, 2013 | Montreal, Canadaed call for papers and we are looking for the best PHP, Java, Ruby, DotNet,HTML5 experts who are willing to share their knowledge with the Canadian community. Candidates can submit proposals until September 23. Consult the call for papers page for details and to start submitting. That page also explains what expenses ConFoo can cover for speakers. You can also get advice on how to write proposals.

The call for papers is public, meaning that all proposals get published on the website for others to vote and comment on. This approach allows the organizers to pick subjects that have most interest in the community. The comments are only visible to speakers and organizers to avoid influencing the votes.

To stay in touch via Twitter, follow @confooca and use the #confoo tag. You can also help promote the event with these cool badges for your site.