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Measuring Success in Project Management

Jun 4, 2019

By Steven Phillips, CTP, FP&A, Assistant Treasurer, AZZ Incorporated

Success in project management can be rather easily measured, if you have the right plan in place. The answer usually lies in knowing where and how to begin.

Quite possibly the most exciting part of a project occurs before any team has been assembled or before anyone develops a plan. It’s usually the time when the concept is discussed, long before it gets approved and funded. This is the point that I call “ground zero,” because from this point forward you have to deal with a project driven by risks, and these risks develop over time. This will cause a project manager to take corrective action to stay on course with the schedule, resources, budget, etc. A host of common issues can quickly derail the excitement of winning the project. But even if you experience those problems, they don’t have to condemn your project to failure.

DEFINING A SUCCESSFUL PROJECT

Generally, success in this area is defined as delivering a project on time, within budget and as specified. If you deliver anything other than the promised deliverable (under or overdeliver), then this should be viewed as a failure of project management. The initial focus should be on the definition of why we need to do the project and to revalidate the assumptions. For example, I worked on a project to implement an automated T&E system that would integrate with our ERP. The key questions before getting this project approved were:

  • Why is this needed? What is wrong with the current system?
  • Should the expense report be fully integrated? Can we upload a template instead?
  • Do we use a corporate T&E credit card program or continue with individual spend and reimbursement?

The list can go on, and it should, since the risk of leaving a critical requirement off at the beginning and then trying to include it as a change order is usually very expensive—more expensive than if it was included in the first place.

KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Always keep in mind that the project outcome is only as good as the effort put in before the project starts. I cannot overstate the importance of developing a complete requirements list, a realistic schedule and a controlled budget that the sponsor authorizes. As long as you communicate with all stakeholders as often as is practical, keep change control documentation (with authorized signoff), and keep an updated risk log, most significant issues can be addressed and solved. 

Common errors that project managers run into include poor communication with the team and stakeholders, poor definition of requirements and poor assumptions that the project will not have any issues going forward. One of the worst errors on a project is budgeting without proper contingency, which can put pressure on a project going over budget.

MINIMIZING PROJECT PROBLEMS

So how can you avoid, or at a minimum, be able to address problems and overruns as the project develops? It all starts with an in-depth review of the project requirements by the project manager, key stakeholders and the project sponsor in the beginning. Again, the requirements list needs to be as complete as possible and fully signed off. Gating, or having planned reviews at milestones to ensure that the expectations of the project are being met, is a useful tool and allows the PM to ask the key question, “Should we terminate or move forward?” 

It is interesting that the reasons that some projects were approved can materially change over time and, therefore, sometimes you’ll find that the project is not needed. Without this type of review, we occasionally put blinders on and march to the finish line, expending unnecessary effort and cost.

Ultimately, treasury and finance professionals should measure success on a project from the business case to the go-live stage by working within the approved budget, ensuring that deliverables are on time and the final project meets the requirements per the signed-off project plan. Any project manager should feel proud and successful if the final project deliverable meets the sponsor and stakeholder objectives.

Don’t miss Stephen Phillips’ session, Measuring Success in Project Management: Pain Points You Need to Know and Avoid, at AFP 2019 in Boston. Register here.