Planning for Project Success: Laying the Foundation

January 15, 2014

project success

We all want our projects to succeed. Success, though, is elusive to organizations that fail to properly define where they are going and the how they plan to get there. This takes more than vision and strategy towards promoting project success. It also requires the right people and process and, finally, technology is only a means to the end.

Preparing For the Next Journey

The first hurdle is admitting that there will always be failures and the organization’s culture has to accommodate them. The detours may lengthen the trip, speed bumps and chuckholes may delay you, and you may even need to alter the final destination. Leadership’s role is to recognize and evaluate the need for change and facilitate the team, adapting their plans accordingly.

The Written Plan

Planning for success is easier than you might imagine. First and foremost, define your vision and write a strategic plan. Having a written plan is central to properly disseminating it to the organization.  It is not just the leaders who need an understanding of where the company is going, the entire company must know. Additionally, written plans form a baseline to measure the effects of inevitable change.

The Map the Projects

Ideally, you would define the initiatives to implement your strategy and start the projects to support the initiatives; however, most of us are in the real world and have a plethora of projects in varying states of repair and disrepair.  Once the strategic plan is made (and each time it is changed), you must ensure that the current work aligns to the plan.

Proclaim that all projects must align to the strategy and miraculously they all will. Overnight pet projects will morph into something different—at least on the outside. Difficult questions with even harder decisions must be asked and made. Rare is a company whose projects all align to the company goals. There are projects that may be adding neat capabilities, but are using valuable resources and defocusing your company’s efforts to implement its plan.

Leadership must objectively assess each project and its value in supporting the corporate goals. This is often better accomplished by neutral, outside resources that lack the baggage of personal relationships and emotional attachment to the projects. It is you, however, that must make the final decisions on alignment. It will not be popular.

Select the Top Three

Boiling the ocean is a long and futile process. Whether you are a startup or a major corporation, capacity is limited. A majority of companies can only focus on three strategic initiatives a year. Three may seem like a very small number. However, lean organizations do not have excess people and subject matter experts who can spare more than a couple hours a week to define new capabilities. They need to keep current operations running.  Trying to accomplish any more than three initiatives will exhaust your team and potentially endanger your current business.

Of course, compliance projects are instrumental in maintaining the company’s ability to operate. These projects are just a critical as the ones aligned with your plan—yet another reason to limit the strategic initiatives is for project success.

Plan Execution

Strategy is great; however, execution is what moves your company forward. In order to implement your plan, you need a complete understanding of the people, process, and technology needed to meet the goals.

People: Never compromise on filling a position. Putting a nice person into a slot when they do not have the required skills slows and frustrates the team. Find the right person, internally or externally, that can perform the required duties.

Process: Process is required, but it does not compensate for lack of aptitude. Hire the right people and then put the minimal number of processes in place to manage and measure the project.

Technology: Technology is a tool, a means to an end. It is rarely, if ever, the end itself. Ensure you have the right people, the proper processes, and then, and only then, determine how technology may help.

Success: Stick to the Basics

Analyze your weaknesses and failures, make adjustments to accommodate or avoid them, document and disseminate your strategic plan, ensure a strong emphasis on people, implement only lean processes, and use technology only as a tool and your organization’s success rate will soar. It is incumbent upon you, as a leader, to maintain this view—whether you are a project manager or the corporate executive.

This concludes the two-part article on planning for project success.

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About The Author

Todd C. Williams is the founder and president of eCameron, Inc. (, they help companies make their vision profitable. He has over 25 years of experience in recovering failing projects, preventing their failure, and applying those lessons to help other organizations fulfill their strategic goals. He has helped his clients through strategic planning facilitation, setting up and running operations, IT leadership, and as an expert witness. He is the author of Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure and can be found on LinkedIn (, Twitter (, Facebook ( ), by phone: +1 (360) 834-7361, or email:


  1. avatar

    Very good

  2. avatar

    Very good piece

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