Organizations often begin projects without any idea about the project’s success. But then, when a project fails, they step back and wonder what went wrong. During my career, I have led both successful and unsuccessful projects (the successful ones are better) and I can safely say that there are three (3) things that a successful project requires:
- A clearly defined scope of effort. A “scope document” is among the most important documents an organization can create. A scope document not only describes what activities and resources are needed to meet the project’s deliverables, but it also describes what activities WILL NOT be included within the project. A clear scope document can protect an organization, if and only if it’s both created at the project’s onset AND enforced throughout the project’s lifecycle. Without a scope document, a project is at risk of bloating into an unmanageable mess.
- Clear milestones that allow project measurability. Project status can be clear, as long as the planned milestones are real and measurable. All too often, activities and deliverables aren’t properly scoped; therefore, milestones can shift as level of efforts are adjusted. However, if milestones are accurately developed and planned for within a project’s timeline, a project team can KNOW where they stand at any point in the project.
- A clear exit strategy. A project is a temporary undertaking meant to achieve a certain goal. But, if an organization doesn’t clearly KNOW when the project is finished, it will never end. I think of the battle for “Hamburger Hill” during the Vietnam War. See, American soldiers fought to claim this hill, but had no idea why. Battle commanders led their troops and eventually, claimed Hamburger Hill, but abandoned it after a few weeks. The North Vietnamese Army reclaimed the hill. This battle was a microcosm of the war: There was no clear purpose for the war; therefore, there was no way to determine when the war was over. All too often, organizations don’t define their goals clearly enough and never really know when the project is finished. Especially in software design: There’s always one more bell or whistle that can be added and without a clear exit strategy that links to a well-drafted scope document, the project will go on forever.
So, in a nutshell, those three (3) things can greatly enable a project’s success. All to often, organizations make the mistake of not defining the reason for the project and so can’t adequately describe any elements that comprise a successful project. But, if an organization takes the time to think through the effort at the onset, odds of sucesss are greatly increased.