Think HBR

Strategies for a successful project

Kris Leck
Catalyst Project Consulting
Project success does not happen by accident. Through careful planning, the chance of project success can significantly increase, but it’s not as simple as crafting a great project plan and hoping everything will be OK.
Here are some of the simpler strategies that have proven successful on many projects:
1. Define your objective
Every single participant in a project will have their own expectations of what is being achieved by the project and what their role is. What they think and what you would like them to think are often quite different. Clearly defining the objectives of your project; that is why you are doing the project and what you hope to achieve when the project is complete, is the first essential step. Perhaps more important though, is someone to persistently relate every part of the developing design and changes during construction back to that objective. This will ensure that what you end up with is what you set out for at the start, and that the result is useful.
2. Build the right team
Too often we have seen the compounding problems that arise when one or more people on the team either can’t or don’t perform their job. A local, independent Project Manager can provide a greater level of certainty in building the right team because they will select not only the right companies to tender for the work, but will often know personally the people proposed to represent each company, and therefore can ensure that the whole team is able and willing to work collaboratively and possess the capacity to deliver superior, coordinated solutions. When a team enjoys working together, the likelihood of project success is greatly enhanced.
3. Good news by pigeon, ‘other’ news by jet plane
Regardless of what your particular role is on a project, it is never a good idea to withhold bad news. As a project manager, my best strategy to avoid the escalation of an issue into a major problem is to raise any bad news as fast as possible (jet plane), to everyone concerned. Inexperience can often lead to delays in communicating bad news, with a false perception that a solution is needed before a problem is discussed. You never know who will hold the solution. There’s nothing wrong with stating “I’ve just been informed (or just noticed) that… I’m working on a solution but thought you would like to know straight away”. Most people will want to be part of resolving an issue before they will want to start laying blame. It’s in everyone’s interest to resolve project issues. Conversely, be as slow as possible (pigeon) to share good news. Too often good news is temporary, be sure it has longevity before sharing.
4. Cost, Time & Quality
These are the cornerstones of project management, and often the tangible criteria that are more easily understood as factors of success. Defining the budget and program and determining the benchmark quality is critical, but continually managing these aspects throughout the project lifecycle provides the best insurance. Being able to continually forecast the final cost of a project is a skill that requires particular mastery. Similarly, moving beyond monitoring and reporting progress, to actively instigating time reduction strategies to mitigate delays requires a robust understanding of various construction techniques and a detailed knowledge of the contract conditions. The pin-up project is one that is completed under budget, ahead of time and above the expected quality, but did the project deliver what it was supposed to? Were the objectives met?
For further information contact Catalyst Project Consulting on (02) 4925 2244, email or visit
Kris Leck Kris Leck
is Director of Catalyst Project Consulting, a Newcastle based consultancy with considerable experience providing Project and Development Management services.