From the Director’s Desk: Impossible vs. Possible Projects

impossible vs possible

I recently attended an excellent talk from one of our alumni turned CEOs, who started her speech with the claim “No project is impossible.” As a clinical professor of Project Management and a former Director of Project management for more than 20 years in the industry, I came to learn otherwise, therefore, her statement surprised me. In my professional years, I came across several projects that were simply stillborn and had no chance of success.

All projects have three things in common: Scope, resources and a schedule. The environment I worked in, particularly had people obsessing over launch dates. To such resources, I said-  “If launch dates are critical, then we must identify requirements and constraints as early as possible?”

Balancing these attributes have never been as pertinent as today’s agile development age where decisions are made in real time alongside client and development team. While a successful project balances all three, it’s common to see managers prioritize. Often, such projects fail. Take the case of Amazon Fire, Boeing 787 and Tesla Model 3 all are products launched later than expected. Any guesses which attribute was least prioritized?

There are, of course, many reasons that contribute to project failures. The point of this article is to discuss whether Project success can be formulaically guaranteed?  Can every project succeed if sufficient resources, managerial support and clarity of expectations is provided?

The APOLLO program, where JFK set the objective to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely in seven and a half years had a crystal goal. Coming from the president himself, the project wasn’t short of funding neither resources. However in 1966, halfway through the program, NASA suffered a major setback when they lost three astronauts in the explosion of Apollo 1. The word at NASA was: they were moving too fast and got sloppy with safety. Even though NASA had all the information, support and resources they failed, why?

Setting goals that are realistic, achievable and challenging, that ensures on-time delivery while keeping the engineers engaged not to a point where it creates quality or safety concerns is, therefore, the key. This ability is an art that only a few companies possess today. With ever-increasing numbers in market-driven projects most of which are non-negotiable in terms of launch, this ability therefore becomes critical. Many CEOs say that the success of a project is dependent on the quality, passion, and intensity of those involved, their will can overcome any obstacle. What isn’t said, is that these features don’t come built-in, Project Managers infuse them in employees while keeping business objectives in check. Their role, therefore, is paramount in any organization.

I later went up to the speaker and asked her if she believed her statement was true of any condition. She appropriately responded that it holds true given that the projects are scaled well (referring to the quality of Project Managers in the organization) otherwise you’re merely beating the bush hoping for a miracle to happen!

Here is a link to an excellent article on the success factors for projects written by Jeffery Pinto:

McCormick News Article