How to Increase Project Success by Asking One Simple Question

Professionals working together at large desk

What makes a project successful? It’s an age-old question that has been asked since the first constructions of ancient civilizations. Business schools have created entire disciplines dedicated to studying and teaching how and why some projects are completed on time and on budget, while others have huge overruns, delays, or simply never get done. I will not attempt to boil the entire field down to a single blog but will offer an observation that consistently holds true: you need the right people for the job.

Leadership: Vision and Decisions

I recently helped execute a major transformational initiative (successfully, on budget, and ahead of schedule). At the final retrospective, we concluded that one of the key factors of our success was leadership’s future state vision and ability to make decisions.

Project Sponsors, Steering Committee, Senior Management–in short, leaders–are tasked with the  critical responsibility of having a clear vision of the future and making the decisions that will get you there. No matter how good the delivery team or the solution is, it is impossible to get “there” if you don’t know where “there” is.

In my case, the program sponsor knew the business inside and out, had both the vision and confidence to decide or say, “I don’t know”, and course correct when required. We also had an excellent team comprised of internal and consulting experts.

Team: Options and Execution

What do you do if your program lacks strong leadership or has gaps in specific areas? From my experience, the best solution is to bring in independent trusted advisor(s), a.k.a. consultant(s). Combining internal perspective with external experience and expertise leverages the strengths of each, adding breadth and depth where it is most needed.

Imagine if you could have a star player in each role: offense, defense and special teams? You can create that team with the right consulting partner. Bringing well rounded knowledge of the business, downstream impacts, and preparing for unforeseen obstacles, consultants can help your leadership team make sound decisions, present options and, of course, execute.

Not all consultants, freelancers, and independent contractors are created equal. We have written extensively on the topic. Choosing the Right Consulting Partner is a good start. If you lack in-house expertise, are plagued by politics or simply need to add bandwidth, having an experienced team will help you look out for your organization and project’s best interest.

When initiating or taking stock of projects, ask yourself: Do I have the right leaders and team for the task? Asking this simple question can help increase your likelihood of project success.