Constituents of Project Success

- Sourya Bose
Usually the middle of the week one gets caught up with a lot of deliverables and the subsequent follow ups from the past week. As Sourav was busy giving finishing touches to his weekly dashboard, he suddenly gets an e mail “You have been recognized”!! Sourav was not only happy but also ecstatic as he was not expecting any reward or recognition for the European Union project he successfully completed about 2 weeks back!

Being in the field of Project Management for close to 6 years now I reflect on what actually constitutes “A Successful Project”? Is it the Agile or the Waterfall Methodology? Or people?

I believe successful Project Management is more about getting people to work together to achieve a specific outcome than it is about tools and frameworks. Mankind is the secret ketchup for success. Here are some critical realities that are worth pontificating!

• The Team are just assigned as per their bandwidth:
Whatever type of organization you are part of, matrix or functional, chances are that the core team will just be assigned. The Project Manager (PM) hardly gets a say or latitude to pick the team s/he desires. Sometimes the teams just hit off and at times they go through the process of “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning”. Add to the fact that the resources are usually shared!!

• Improving your Emotional Quotient:
Timelines, cost, weekly steering committee meetings etc. etc. Amidst all this is pandemonium is it feasible for any PM to have a “bonding” with the core team?

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While the answer is a difficult yes, which can work wonders for not only the team but also for the project. All of us are Adam's children and we are bound to make mistakes, aren't we? But the key take away from the mistakes should be lessons learnt. Each one of us has our own eccentricities and behavioral quirks; it's our normal. The Project Manager needs to make a diligent effort to understand every key contributor to the project in terms of their personalities, what motivates them, what exasperates them and how they fit into the overall organizational landscape at the professional, cultural and personal levels. The only thing which would be a hindrance here in case the team are virtually located in different locations!

• Informal communication or the Grapevine:
One way of managing the humane part of the project is to figure out the grapevine systems existing in the organization. In one organization, a Project Manager I knew, found the fastest way to get the attention of the CEO without approaching him directly was, to leak something to the COOs administrative assistant, who within minutes shared the knowledge with the CEO's executive secretary, who then made the CEO aware.

This whole process often took less than an hour to complete and typically resulted in a conversation with the CEO or the CEO's intervention in a situation that needed his attention. Not understanding these informal channels of communication can result in getting derailed as messages can get distorted leaps of abstraction made, and so on.

In the example, the Project Manager (right or wrong) used the grapevine to her advantage. The point is that without a clear understanding of where information flows (which is not part of the formal chain-of-command or cross-functional processes), the Project Manager cannot have a full appreciation for the dynamics of the relationships in play that can positively or negatively impact project success.

• Heads vs Tails:
Not every stakeholder would be happy with a project's success. In case of an offshoring project there might be people who would get new roles or worst case might even get asked to look for options outside their existing company. Understanding the value the project will deliver, or the takeaway from each project stakeholder and participant, will provide a context for assessing risk and hopefully help in developing strategies and counter-measures for dealing with issues that might arise.

• Push, Pull or Share:
The art of managing people is perhaps the most intriguing aspect in a project and no toolkit or methodology is there to make it easier for the PM. The best way to learn is to unlearn and with experience. Project Managers should spend at least an equal amount of time sensing people's feelings, behavioral inconsistencies and moods as they do dogging their progress on assignments. Seeing situations through the eyes of the team builds wisdom and insight. It is an imperative skill of leadership. This means that the Project Manager needs to know when to disengage from the heat of discourse and become the observer; seeking to understand the underlying issues and concerns fueling conflict. This is easier said than done and hardest when engaged in one-on-one situations. There are so many different aspects of people – cultural differences, communication patters, distance, technologies etc.

At the end of the day a project is successful only and only if the people involved in it are well managed, as it is the “resources” who make the difference.