There's no question that every project manager would like to experience success on every project. The reality, though, is that more than 50% of all projects end in failure to some degree. Maybe not total and utter failure, but they fail to some degree to reach full customer satisfaction, or end user usability, or hit the mark the project budget, or get delivered on time. In some way or another, more than 50% are not fully successful.
Even in project failure we can learn something to take forward to the next project, and the one after that, and so on. When we learn to ride a bike we crash, we fall off, we run into the side of the garage. But eventually we get it. And we get better each time we ride the bicycle. That's how project management works as well. We may be terrified as we run our first project and any success we experience may be purely due to luck or that it was a simple project or that we receive lots of help getting there. But we learned something. And we learned more on the next project, and so on. We eventually get to that point 20 years down the road where we can look back and see a path of many project successes that have build us a solid reputation as a skilled project manager.
As we establish our reputation as a good project manager one project at a time, there are a few basics that we must remember and try to incorporate as part of our normal flow of managing the project. Doing this will help us to ensure that our continued success is due to planning and experience and not relying on luck for most of our successes:
Produce planning documents
Those documents that seem like placeholders at the front of the project: the communication plan, the risk management plan, the resource plan, the project charter, etc. are actually important documents. We produce them and get them signed by the customer and then we have a benchmark to work from. We skip them and have no agreement on those processes with the customer and we leave open the possibility for questions and interpretations throughout the engagement. Choose the former, not the latter.
Do the fundamental things
Produce weekly status reports. Hold weekly status calls. Meet regularly with your project team to touch base even when there isn't a lot of work going on. Maintain the project budget and resource plan meticulously. If you continually do these things regularly throughout the project and don't skip meetings you set solid expectations with your team and your customer. As a result you keep project participation high, accountability high, and customer satisfaction high.
Practice the best communication possible
Don't assume your team and your customer understand something or always know what's going on. Don't assume that everyone knows what's expected of them. Always strive to practice efficient and effective communication throughout the engagement and you'll see the results in positive ways from your team and from the satisfaction level and participation level of your customer. Communication like this is critical to the success of your project.
Conduct lessons learned sessions
Finally, don't skip the lessons learned sessions. Even though it becomes increasingly hard to focus on the project after implementation and as you and your team begin to drift to other projects, schedule this session with your team and your customer and go through the project and what happened good and bad. It's important and you'll learn from it.
We take each project individual and methodically, following best practices to achieve both success (hopefully) and, more importantly, valuable experience. Even project failures help us to become much better project managers if we learn from them.
Practice best practices, stick to the basics, document requirements well and allow for proper planning, and then communicate effectively for your best chances of success.