Project Management, it seems, is a failure.

Whether it’s Harvard Business Review telling us that 70% of Change Initiatives Fail, or that old warhorse, the Standish Chaos Report, we’re surrounded by voices telling us that we’re profoundly failing. And a large number of those same voices (entirely co-incidentally) have a programme, or a method, or a certification that will stop that; for a fee, naturally.

Sorry, but I fundamentally don’t accept the premise.

Now I don’t know whether I’m just lucky, or that the methods I use are basically sound, but the vast majority of projects I run succeed in hitting their baseline constraints. However, even if my success rate were in line with the industry, I’m not at all sure that the metrics cited indicate a systemic catastrophe.

What they are telling us is that by running projects as we do, about 30% more initiatives succeed than by not doing anything. Offer a 30% success rate to the Direct Marketing Industry and they’d take your hand off. What’s more important to assess is whether the 30% that succeed accomplish more than you lose in the rest. As Seth Godin would observe, if you’re not failing often, it’s because you’re not initiating enough.

Can we improve our delivery? Yes, always, until we reach perfection. But should we wailing “Mea Culpa; Mea Maxima Culpa” for our current success rate? Not on your life.

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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Success and Failure in Projects by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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