Is Project Success a Superior Value?

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Guest post by Pawel Brodzinski
What does project manager do? Manages projects. What is the main goal for the role? To deliver project on time, on budget and on scope. In other words to achieve a project success.

Does it mean that successful project managers are the ones who run successful projects only? And the one who is usually late and over budget isn?t successful at all?

Well no, not really.

Am I just trying to say that relation between project success and project manager success isn?t direct? Actually yes, that?s exactly what I?m trying to say.

According to Chaos Report only about one third of all project are considered as successful. Does it mean two third of project managers suck? Personally I don?t think so. I worked on enough projects where schedule was cut in a half because ?the client said so? or scope has been changing faster than T-1000 from Terminator 2 movie to know sometimes you don?t have even a chance to achieve success.

I had this discussion a couple of times already; what if you get a doomed project to manage? You along with whole team can do your best and still the project will be considered as failure. Does it mean you?ve failed? Even if you were able to reduce possible slip from 18 to 6 months?

As project managers we don?t have much of formal power – our authority is usually informal. This means office politics may kick in and you can find your project team wrecked one day. Someone could have taken few best people out or agreed to huge changes in scope or rejected to help you with parts you delegated to other teams you have no control over. And all these just because he had enough power to do so and not much interest in you succeeding with the project. Does it still make you suck as a project manager?

The impact a project manager has on the team is also important. It?s a pretty common situation when a project team isn?t disbanded just after acceptance protocol is signed but the same people work with each other all over again. Projects change but teams remain. Now consider you have a choice between a very successful PM who is a jerk, and one who fails more often but is a team player. Would you sacrifice good atmosphere and team chemistry just to finish a couple of projects more on time? Personally I would not.

While I?m not going to deny that project success is one of the crucial aspects of project managers? work I wouldn?t treat it as a value superior for everything else. I know a few great PMs who don?t have perfect track record ? far from that. It doesn?t change however how I perceive them. It doesn?t change the fact I?d choose any of them over a guy who was able to deliver almost any project he worked on but at the same time he was hated by project teams which worked with him.

Project management is too complex to look at it from a perspective of project result only.