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Project success plans – planning for success

A project success plan can be a platform for ensuring all project stakeholders start off, and continue, on the right footing.

Setting up projects to succeed in the view of the customer/stakeholder is a critical part of the project manager’s role. As part of project planning activities in the early stages of your project, you should hold a project success plan meeting with all key team members to agree on the project’s goals, and to discuss the emotional success factors that will ensure the team gels successfully to deliver the required outcomes.

A project success plan is different to a project management plan, sometimes referred to as a project execution plan. A project management plan is typically produced by the project manager to describe how the project will be managed and controlled in its delivery/execution phase, whereas the project success plan is a documented meeting convened by the project manager to discuss and agree what success means to all key stakeholders.

The project success plan, like a project management plan or project execution plan, should draw from project artefacts such as the project charter and the customer brief.

Helping the team ‘gel’

Have you ever managed or been involved in a project where, at one point or another, you felt that you were not on the same page as other team members? Ensuring everyone on a project team is continually pulling in the same direction can be a challenge. A project success plan can help you to set a solid foundation for stakeholder interactions throughout the project, and to ensure you can detect and rectify any occurrences where stakeholder views and actions start to deviate off plan.

To ensure everyone starts on the right foot, it is important to kick off your project communications strategy properly. By this, we mean ensuring that everyone’s interpretation of success and their assumptions about the project are aired and discussed in an open group forum, which can be documented and evaluated in a Pareto-type [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle] chart format to indicate importance. This is the essence of the project success plan.

The project success plan is a communications planning tool in the project manager’s toolkit to get all key project stakeholders on the same page, and understanding each other’s prerogatives and drivers for success. This is not always an easy task, since there are likely to be a range of drivers and interpretations of project success among your stakeholders.

For example, team members who are recipients of the end solution/product may have very different views and expectations of what project success means to those who are focused on delivering the product. It is also likely that some (or maybe all) team members in your project will be working together to achieve a specific objective for the first time. Indeed, the number of stakeholders who have worked together on projects before is an interesting statistic for the project manager to take note of at a project’s start.

A project success plan meeting should aim to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Serve as an ‘ice breaker’ for team members to get to know a little about each other.
  • Discuss and agree the basis for setting the criteria for achieving success.
  • Team members agree and commit to their roles and responsibilities for the project.
  • Everyone should understand each other’s personality and modus operandi.
  • Everyone’s assumptions about the project and their drivers should be aired, discussed and documented.
  • A win/win philosophy and a collaborative approach throughout the project needs to be fostered.
  • The team should discuss their collective lessons learned from previous projects/experiences.

The points above are all about communications and common understanding. By understanding how to handle your key/extended teams’ communications with each other, stakeholders can avoid accidental and sometimes costly mistakes in communicating information and decisions during the project’s life. For example, ensuring that people discuss how meetings, reports and controls should be conducted will help set reporting expectations; if one person thinks project status reports are “a waste of time”, find out why and talk it through.

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PM Oracles is Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, Jeff Hodgkinson and Duke Okes, all experienced PMO, program, and project managers who share a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management. Their collective goal is to disseminate 50 articles on project management in three years.
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