Is Any Project Ever Truly Successful?

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Paul Naybour
Paul is a project management consultant and account manager with particular expertise in the analysis, process development, and implementation of change program management, risk management, earned value management, and bespoke project management training development and delivery. Paul is the Business Development Director of the company Parallel Project Training

With so many corporate projects of all different types failing to live up to initial expectations you might wonder if any project could ever be considered successful when compared against the original aims and expectations. At the start of a project there is usually a very clear idea of what should be achieved by the end of the project and most (but not all) projects are started with some measure of confidence in our abilities to achieve that desired goal and a thorough business analysis.

Even without the ideal set of circumstances you are at least likely to have some of the things you need to complete the project successfully – skilled people to carry out the work, the right tools, a tried and tested knowledge-based project management method such as APMP from the Association for Project Management (APM) or PMP from the Project Management Institute (PMI). Also you would expect some organisational skills and, of course, adequate time and budget . So why do so many different types of projects go wrong along the way?



A project could be anything from designing a new software system or building a new bridge; relocating a company from one office to another or developing an offshore wind farm. Projects appear in our personal and business lives and major infrastructure projects can affect whole towns or regions so getting them right can have a major impact on the lives of many people.

Projects are rarely started with the anticipation of failure – usually it is quite the opposite – the project team and all the other people involved are full of optimism. But could it be this very optimism that contributes to failure? In an eagerness to start a project essential steps are sometimes skipped or not fully completed, even when following a standard approach such as APMP. Do any of the following sources of project failure sound familiar?


  • Failure to define the scope of the project
  • Not being fully aware of the risks involved
  • Un-documented assumptions are made by certain people or groups involved
  • Costs and Time are underestimated
  • The benefits of the project are exaggerated
  • Different agendas by different people or groups involved
  • Failure to define what success is



Most projects are not complete disasters – they almost always deliver some end-product but it may not be exactly what the client wanted or it may meet their expectations but have cost more than predicted or taken much longer to complete. And here, again, a sense of optimism often prevails and we convince ourselves and our clients that the project is a success. That optimism can be a good thing (think Olympic Games and FA World Cup) – everyone wants something to be a success so they make it a success.

But what about when the project is not an international sporting event or an infrastructure project that makes our lives easier?

Failures in the management of business projects result in clients having to accept less then they expected or pay more to achieve what they want. For a project to genuinely succeed and deliver what a business client wants, on-time and on-budget, it needs to be planned and managed in detail at every step of the way. Milestones need to be set and stuck to. Whenever possible a professional project manager with the skills and experience necessary to keep the project on track should be in charge; a person not just with technical project management experience and qualifications but one who can maintain the initial optimism of the project throughout its life. A project manager who is proactive not reactive and one who can motivate the team when things are not going to plan.

No wonder project management is fast becoming recognised as a modern profession – with the right person managing every stage of a project, and with the skills, experience and tools to do so effectively, it is possible to achieve real success in a project.


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