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The dos and don’ts of project success

Adeline Teoh ed.
April 4, 2014

We readily accept that we learn from project failure, but these lessons don’t necessarily translate into a roadmap for success. So what does?

Every Sunday I receive a text from an eco dry cleaner I used to use when I lived in another part of Sydney. The owner, Kris, will send a prompt to request a pick-up (he only does pick-ups and drop-offs on Mondays and Thursdays to save on fuel) along with a motivational or sometimes entrepreneurial quote. Despite not living locally any more, I like these little Sunday interludes even though some are a little twee.

The other day he sent a quote that resonated: “Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses,” according to Marilyn vos Savant, an American columnist and writer (and three-time holder of the Guinness Book of World Records’ Highest IQ record before it scrapped the category).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great believer in learning from one’s mistakes. Experience is a great teacher, whether we observe others making mistakes and learn from them or do things ourselves and work out the best way through a problem or challenge. But consider that this is a muddled path to success at best because it’s success by trial and error.

Just like our urge to repeat the mantra ‘work smart, not hard’, I think we need to consider our path to success as ‘succeed smart, not hard’. That doesn’t mean ignoring the lessons from failures, but more prominently and enthusiastically taking lessons from success. When we do something brilliant, we not only need to acknowledge and celebrate it, we need to document it so we can replicate it. It needs to be absorbed into the knowledge management cycle.

And just like too many projects document risks as only threats, not opportunities, a great majority of post-project knowledge management focuses on the negative: what not to do next time, rather than promoting recommendations that can transform the way organisations run projects for the better. Where does the good stuff go?

What do you do to acknowledge and learn from successful projects?

Author avatar
Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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