Delivering projects successfully
There are many articles, surveys and discussions regarding successful project delivery. Most of them refer to the “iron triangle” of time, quality and cost when evaluating the success of a project. Unfortunately, this is misleading and causes huge troubles. The triangle is reflecting on the constraints of a project. It shall be delivered during a certain period of time, meeting the quality criteria of the customer and sticking to a certain budget. There are many other constraints including but not limited to the resources available and the processes required for project execution or the satisfaction of the client and the project team involved. To reach the objectives of a project within the imposed constraints is certainly a success, the “project management success”. Let me use the Sydney Opera as an example. It could be perceived as a huge failure, looking only at project management success. In actuality, the project was completed ten years late and 1,457% over budget in real terms (Sydney Opera House). Neither the team involved in the construction of the opera house, nor the client were happy with what was going on. The Danish architect Jørn Utzon left the project on 28 February 1966, seven years before project closure. He said that the client´s refusal to pay him any fees and the lack of collaboration caused his resignation. Even worse, Utzon was not invited to the opening ceremony, nor was his name mentioned…
Is the Sydney Opera House Project a complete failure? Certainly not! The project result was celebrated as great achievement, won several prestigious awards and is nowadays one the World Heritage Sites, listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as being of special physical significance. The Sydney Opera House is today one of the most popular visitor attractions in Australia, more than seven million people visit the site each year, not to mention the 1.2 million people attending one of the approximately 1,500 performances each year. Besides being recognised and attractive for tourists to visit, it certainly brings economic benefits to Sydney and Australia.
The lessons learned: narrowing down the success of a project to the iron triangle (“project management success”) is short-sighted. We need to take the long-term objectives and benefits, thus the “project success” into account, when evaluating the successful delivery of a project. This is like a painting. The first result may not be perceived well by the audience, but on the long-run it may achieve huge recognition and gain value. It is certainly much easier to judge based on the short-term results at the end of a project, but throughout the project life-cycle capabilities are built-up, which can be harvested in the future. During the definition of the project objectives, both aspects, short- and long-term should be considered, together with qualitative and quantitative success criteria. All stakeholders should be actively involved in the formulation of the project objectives and the long-term benefits in order to reach a sustainable solution. The combination of project management success and project success at a defined point in time allows for a much better judgement on success than a short-sighted one at the end of a project.
Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.
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