Some background

Since I continue to manage projects and continue enjoying it, I was thinking about what makes a project successful and what are the lessons learned across all these years of project and program management. We can read a lot about Agile and the advantages to be agile, this will not be the silver bullet for all projects, just implementing Agile or any other methodology won’t make the project successful. It is only about people and how they adhere to the project objectives and how they feel that project work can contribute to their self motivation and ambitions to accomplish their goals. The key criteria to make projects successful is to be able to motivate the team and adapt to each individual in the team so that they feel they can give their best at all time. So when looking back, I came up with some typical patterns I found valid in any circumstances.

Leadership

I have been given the chance to manage projects and program of different sizes, some were more technical in nature and some were business oriented. Some were geographically distributed and some were local, but in all projects, even Agile, everybody looks for a leader, the leader can be designated by a self organizing team or nominated by the organization, the challenges are the same, show your leadership and be an example.

Leaders need to show they work hard, they support their teams, they remove any impediments in the team, help managing expectations if deadlines are not feasible. Taking a back seat will never work and will soon demotivate people as they won’t feel supported. The leader is here to support the team, help with small details that can boost the team members efficiency, address their concerns, give directions, coach more junior team members, take on difficult communication issues. This is valid for ll types of projects.

The best leaders I have ever had where the ones with an open door to help and transfer their knowledge all this with humility.

Methodology

While we speak a lot about Agile and its benefits, I think Agile is based on common sense principles that we were applying even before Agile was invented. Collaboration, communication, transparency, self-organization are all principles that for example seem natural. advantage of Agile is that it gives a framework to apply these principles. Having team members enabled to organize themselves is a great motivator as it empowers people to give their best and stay creative. In the past we have been using all sorts of project methodologies, e.g. Waterfall, iterative, spiral model and son, some projects have been successful, some projects have failed, in fact we can read that a large of portions of projects fail to some degree. I do not believe this is due to methodology, but mainly due to people and communication between them. Even using waterfall models, teams can be transparent, collaborative and build trust between themselves, but the methodology does not enforce some of the key principles, so it is left to people to make this happen, this demonstrates that at the end of the day people are the key to any projects, not methodologies.

Organizational Overhead

For a project to be successful, organizational overhead must be kept to a minimum, direct interactions between the end client and the project team is critical. Many of earlier projects were having multiple layers of steering committees and sponsor meetings. Wit the advent of Agile, the direct communication between the end client, i.e. the product owner is not only wished, it is the basis of the project set up. This leaves many organizations to stumble as they need to redefine new roles and need to flatten hierarchies.

The key for success is to leave project teams accountable for their success with little supervision, flatten hierarchies empower teams and increase their motivation as they feel more motivated, the bucks end with them!

Transparency

One the most important key to success is transparency, that seems obvious, but how many times transparency has not not really been fostered if not avoided. If people cannot tell the truth, they will lose trust in their leaders and in the organization, this can be catastrophic. The transparency must go top down and bottom up, this will build enormous trust between actors and will not leave project issues hidden. Last minute surprises in projects are not due to lack of planning or skills, but often because information has not flown through the whole project team or to project sponsors or clients.

From the beginning on, transparency must be one of the key project culture and even rewarded.

All about People

Building the right team with the right people that understand and commit to the above will bring fantastic results. The whole organization must adhere to the same values of transparency, leadership and trust. This is already at least half of the journey. Everything else is technocratic details.

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