Searching for (Project) Success

What drives the success of a project? I’m having a lot of conversations with clients and partners about this at the moment.

There the old story of a drunk who is found looking for his house keys under a street lamp.

“Are you sure you lost them here?” says the helpful stranger after a while.

“No,” replies the drunk, “but the light is better here.”

Where are we looking for the keys to project success, I wonder? Are we looking in the same places because that is where the light appears to be better? Most of the time, we look at the project manager, the individual.

So we send project managers on training courses. We get them assessed against competence measures, and so on.

More recently people have focused on the organisation, the whole enterprise. ‘Why is it that some organisations appear to be more successful in project delivery,’ people ask. So the search moves to the organisation’s culture and maturity.  And they conclude that project success is largely determined by the wider environment within which they run they run their projects. So maturity models have been devised. You have the classic CMMI model. There is the P3M3 for portfolios, programmes and projects. Assess the maturity of the organisation to deliver projects, they say; it is too simplistic to look only at the project manager.

And they are, of course, partly right.

So we look for success in:

  • the competence of the project manager (or programme manager – the same applies)
  • the maturity of the host organisation

But what if we are looking in the wrong places? What if it is only partly individual competence, and only partly to do with organisational maturity. But we could still be missing an area, an area where there is now a growing body of evidence that this is where much high performance can be found?

What about the team?

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