Too many projects deliver compromises that adversely impact business operations for years. This is a waste and the opposite to success.

Kind and Cruel

The human body is both kind and cruel. For example, in the event of an emergency it will allow us to make a mad dash for safety (kind) and punish us later when our muscles seize up (cruel).

Our project delivery approaches are also kind and cruel.

They allow us to make a mad dash towards project completion (albeit, at times, over many months) and then punish us later when our operational options and flexibility seize up due to the resultant system and process limitations.


We long ago discovered that the opposite to project ‘success’ is rarely failure but ‘compromise’ — significant compromise, not only in project delivery performance but also, and more importantly, in compromised future business performance.

The delivery of the solution by the project is the start, not the finish of the value delivery process. It is the start of what you can do with that solution. Unfortunately, with most of our performance measures focused on completing the mad dash to the end of the project, the longer-term business consequences are too often compromised in the rush to get "finished".

  • Scope is treated as a variable – to be adjusted to meet the project’s budget or schedule
  • Solution functions and features are defined that do not take into consideration the potential for adverse process implications
  • Design decisions are made to meet technical standards at the expense of operational costs, usability and productivity.

And so on.

The Consequences of Compromises

Consistently, organizations measure poor project performance in terms of time and budget overruns. And yet the most significant cost is the deficiencies, compromises and constraints that are delivered into the business. This can mean massive waste for many years to come.

Whereas over time the human body will relax its seized muscles and allow us to return to normal; project solution limitations and compromises only ‘relax’ with additional expenditure and effort. And some compromises are irreversible as they are built into the core of the solution.

It is, therefore, better to be cruel than kind.

Cruel in insisting on the project achieving the optimum business results first time, so as to be kind in providing the business with operational options, flexibility and the productivity desired.

In Conclusion

You don’t do projects to deliver something on time and on budget; you commission projects to deliver the desired business outcomes, benefits and value. Success is delivering the value.

Don't be ‘kind’ and compromise these outcomes; rather be cruel and insist on getting what the organization wants.

Topics: Project Success, Costs and Waste, Value Equation, Program / Project delivery

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Oct 2011) as "The Need To Be Cruel With Projects To Ensure Success"

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