Success in a project can be a moving target. Carefully defining project success with the customer during the initiation phase (or pre-start) versus defined requirements can lay the framework for a stable work breakdown structure. But what if project initiation is in a honeymoon phase, and your particular culture has had repeated project efforts for the same client? This client has a penchant for changing requirements, and at any moment you could go from developing a bundle of functional requirements only to have to shift some team members to undocumented repairs. This particular type of project can be pretty frustrating, or it can be the best successfully failing project you’ve ever managed.
Now hear me out – even failing projects can be a success. How do you define project success? This particular situation isn’t all that unknown, and the fundamental tenets of project management via PMBOK and PMI can give you the speech. But, while many projects fail, being able to cull specific successes from it mean repeat customers. Because, after all, who can fault the little project manager who could?
Having a project that meets scope, schedule, and budget is a success. But that’s pretty boring in a world filled with things like Tesla’s being shot into space, cars that drive themselves, and robots that pick groceries. It’s a simple way of categorizing all projects. Projects have so many dissociative factors that end up encroaching (like scope creep) into the project-sphere. Change management goes a long way for scope creep and the many changes that can occur during the project life-cycle. Only understanding, communicating, and planning for that change during the beginning of project inception or ideation is the crucial moments to draw the lines. Merely posing the question, “How will we, as a team with our customers, handle changes?” is easy. Whether that answer becomes a documented change management plan for you and your customer depends on how you answer that question.
But consider the spirit of a project. Although the most seasoned of manager may scoff at the idea, there is nothing like kicking off a project that is outside the norm and uses new technology. If you have a repeat customer who comes back to your team time and time again, you probably will manage scopes that could fall outside the guidelines. Or, conversely, you end up working many tasks within a project that are not in scope, but because of the incredibly good relationship building you have with a client, you end up spending project resources to complete.
It’s like the outdated annual performance management objectives that tired corporations use. You spend more time on categorizing and fitting in real accomplishments of work into overall statements than you do in developing real results. If your project goal is to bake a cake and you end up with delicious cupcakes because the form factor changed mid-project, did your project fail? Not if the customer let you know that they think cupcakes are divine! The question is, did you communicate the broad topic of fluffy desserts from the onset of the project and then keep the customer engaged while mixing and baking was occurring? Did you have a good status update mechanism working when cupcake tins showed up?
Remember: Success is driven by people, not things or projects. When people do not communicate change, failures happen. Failure equals lack of communication. You may not have delivered a cake, but your communication tactics have developed a great relationship with your customer.