around the problem. The study showed that
when project managers fail to effectively address
performance problems in their teams, four out
of five projects suffer from budget, schedule and
What Project Managers Can Do
Some project managers are able to successfully
resolve these problems, even in unwelcoming
environments. Here’s how:
Recognize what must be said. Project managers who see the danger in their projects are more
likely to speak up.
Hold the right conversation. When you don’t
address exactly what’s wrong, you leave the real
problem unsolved. For example, a project manager
might approach an absent sponsor and say, “We
missed you at the last meeting.” This is the wrong
conversation. The problem is not so much the recent
absence, but the pattern of missed commitments.
Lead with facts. Skillful project managers lay out
the factual basis of their concerns before sharing the
riskier conclusions. For example, “Our Asia office
is now six months behind in getting us the data we
need to proceed. We’ve made more than a dozen
requests for the data. In the past three months, I’ve
brought this up with you during each of our reviews.
At that time you said you would make contact with
the Asia V.P.…” The facts help the non-engaged
sponsor see more clearly what your concern is in a
way that’s not controversial or accusatory.
Focus on mutual goals. Finally, skillful project
managers acknowledge and support common goals.
Senior leaders are much less defensive when they
know you care about the same goals. This creates
an atmosphere of safety, and they’re far more likely
to respond favorably to your concerns. PM
David Maxfield is vice president of research at
VitalSmarts, Provo, Utah, USA.
Continued from previous page
VOICES In the Trenches
Research into successful projects reveals six
By Terry Williams, PMP
FOR 20 YEARS I have been on a mission to understand how projects behave, what we can learn from
them and how we can better manage them.
I thought it would be refreshing to look into
why projects succeed rather than why they fail.
But I faced two obstacles. First, “project success” is
a multidimensional measure that means different
things to different people. For example, the Sydney
Opera House could now be deemed a success, yet
it was completed six years behind schedule and at
double the original cost. Second, there has been
little research into the causal chains that lead to
A CASE STUDY
My work led me to undertake a case study of the
delivery of projects by Sewell Group in Hull, England between 2008 and 2013. The projects were part
of two government programs in health and education—the National Health Service Local Improvement Finance Trust Programme and the Building
Schools for the Future Programme.
Sewell’s delivery of the projects, equating to £500
million of new and improved public facilities in the
city of Hull, was generally considered excellent.
But I wanted to explore whether the projects were
regarded as successful due to positive feelings created from significant regeneration investment in a
concentrated area, or if Sewell had, in fact, delivered
My research showed that the firm not only
applied the traditional criteria of a well-run project
(time, cost and quality), it also went much further,
aiming to leave a legacy and address more intangible
criteria such as customer satisfaction, user and community engagement, and empathy.