Success is a little bit like a unicorn. Everyone wants it, but it seems like an impossible dream. In search of this unicorn, people go to great lengths and if their search turns up nothing, they label themselves and their work a failure. This is a huge mistake in the way we think about success and failure. The problem is that we define success too narrowly and failure too broadly. This is especially true for how most people determine the success of their project portfolio. To really understand the true success of projects and your whole project portfolio, you should remember the old adage, “success is in the eye of the beholder.”
People often have a narrow idea of success, but its true definition has a surprisingly wider range. According to Merriam-Webster, success can be defined as a “favorable or desired outcome.” When companies evaluate the success of a project, program, or entire project portfolio, they often only look at whether a “desired outcome” has been achieved. Was the project finished? Were revenue targets reached? But this is only part of the definition. Success can also produce a “favorable” outcome. Oftentimes, favorable outcomes are less quantitative in nature, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. It would be a huge mistake to overlook favorable outcomes, so we’re going to breakdown a few of them so you can understand project portfolio success.
No company exists in a vacuum. Markets are dynamic and consumer demands are changing. For companies to survive, they need to be nimble enough to adapt to any changes that could affect business. The problem is that most companies are extremely static and creating a company culture where adaptability is not only accepted, but eagerly adopted by employees is difficult. When evaluating the success of a single project, a program, or a whole project portfolio, consider how well your teams were able to accept and promote change. Most people by their nature don’t like change, so if your teams or employees were able to overcome this dislike in the execution of a project, you’ve already produced a favorable outcome whether the project is finished on time or even at all. The skill to adapt plans will continue to serve your company in the future and will help you stay ahead of competitors. To determine how well adaptability was achieved, ask yourself these questions:
- Did my team(s) identify changes needed to keep the company working toward our strategic goals?
- Did my team consider how to best respond to changes with improved plans?
- Were proposed changes adopted by all team members?
It’s important to understand just because projects have been completed and goals have been met does not mean the work was done well. Many companies put a preference on working harder instead of smarter and this should be considered a shortcoming. Efficient organizations save time and money and yet very few companies emphasize efficiency. While there are many ways an organization can make itself more efficient, one of the most common is through proper resource management. When your employees are correctly deployed across your project portfolio, your organization becomes a well-oiled machine. To find out how efficient your project portfolio is, ask yourself these questions:
- How often do employees have to work overtime to finish a project?
- Are projects delayed because you are waiting on key employees to be available?
- Could projects have been completed more quickly or incurred less cost if different resources were assigned to the project?
No matter how well you plan, there are always going to be obstacles that you did not anticipate. Some organizations allow these obstacles to debilitate them, but successful ones know how to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and face these challenges head on. It’s easy to see how an organization’s ability to bounce back can continue to serve it and produce more favorable outcomes in the future. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. Continually experiencing obstacles can be extremely demoralizing and demotivating. Organizations must create safe spaces for employees to fail so they can learn from the mistakes and challenges they face to make them better equipped to handle difficult situations. If you want to check on the resilience of your organization, consider these questions yourself and ask others to share their answers too:
- How did it feel when unexpected challenges arose?
- What did teams or individuals do in response to these challenges?
- Were teams successful at overcoming new challenges?
It’s easy to underestimate the power of knowledge, particularly when you learn from making mistakes. When companies focus too hard on the mistakes, they miss out on the opportunity to use lessons learned to make them better. If you have a team that spends hundreds of manhours developing a product and that product turns out to be defective, you may be tempted to write off the project as a failure. Mistakes are how we learn and if we make mistakes quickly, we learn faster. The faster an organization can learn, the quicker it can innovate and grow. If you want to know if your teams have learned from their mistakes, try answering these questions:
- Have your teams implemented different procedures or processes after a mistake?
- Did making a mistake educate your teams about how they can save time or money on future projects?
- Will your teams make the same mistakes again?
Employees are organizations’ most valuable assets and they play a huge role in an organization’s growth. Because of their pivotal role, success can rise and fall with employees and not just their skills. Unhappy and unmotivated employees won’t produce the best work. They won’t champion your company and they won’t lead you to success. While there are many ways you can make employees happy, a large source of happiness comes from the work they do and the control they have over their work. When employees feel like they have a say in project decisions (no matter how small), it allows them to make a personal connection with their work. This in turn motivates and empowers them to work hard for your company and accelerate growth. To gauge how your employees feel about their work, you can discuss these questions with them:
- Do you feel like you have decision-making authority or that your opinion influences decisions?
- Do you feel free to make suggestions and present issues you are having in your work?
- Do you feel like you have a direct impact on a project’s outcome?
Creating Successful Project Portfolios
Creating a project portfolio that is successful can be extremely challenging. It’s easy for project portfolio management to be drowned in unnecessary details, complicated processes and poor communication. In order to create a successful project portfolio, you will need a fluid framework and an easy to use tool for execution. At Meisterplan, we developed a Lean Project Portfolio Management™ framework to help companies cut through the noise and develop realistic and achievable plans. When you use Lean PPM™ with our software, you can set yourself up for all kinds of success with your project portfolio. To see how Meisterplan can help you put it all together, start a free 30 day trial or schedule a one-on-one demo with a PPM expert.