Looking the wrong way

When project delivery is not performing the natural tendency is to look at project management.

“How can we improve project management?”

“How can we improve the relationship between IT, the project teams, and the business?”

“How do we up-skill our project teams?”

All good questions but they are usually looking the wrong way.

Projects operate within a business context and environment. A wrong, inadequate or inappropriate business environment will actively prevent the project from being truly successful.

‘True success’ for a project is measured in business value realization terms – did the business get the outcomes, benefits, and value it sought and expected? If the business is underperforming in its roles, it is unlikely to get the results it wants and the project will not be seen as successful.

Yet, this simple need for informed business involvement is ignored by most who are trying to improve project performance. They, understandably, look at the project, the project team, the project methodology, or whatever, but don’t look at the business, the business governance team or the (lack of a) business value delivery methodology.

It is like trying to improve road safety by just improving the safety of cars. Good, necessary, and does deliver some results – but road safety is also determined by the state of the roads, road laws, breath-tests, driver education, etc. Just improving the safety of cars is not enough.

It is the same with project performance. Projects begin and end in the business. While there can be some project failures driven by poor project management, more project failures are driven by poor business involvement, leadership, and governance.

In all of the analyses I’ve seen of large-scale project failure ‘inadequate senior management support’ always sits into the top three reasons for failure (poor project management usually comes in around number 6).

To improve project performance we need to stop looking exclusively at the project team and instead look at the business, its understanding, and capability to perform its roles effectively. You’ll often find the need for governance training, effective change approaches, simple but effective benefits processes – areas missing or underdone in most organizations.

In Conclusion

Improving business value delivery performance is the area that TOP has been focusing on for the past 18 years – because until you improve the business’ performance, your projects cannot be successful. In fact, no one ends up as successful. And that’s a failure, right?

Do we want to continue to be associated with failure or do we want to look the right way and fix the value delivery issue?

Topics: Value Delivery, Project Controls, Value Equation

Further Reading



[1] ...

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Apr 2010) as "Looking The Wrong Way"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections