For the last couple days, I’ve been dealing with project management issues. Training, textbooks and authorities on the topic say that you must have a clearly defined scope, timeline and resource plan. There are even contract writing solutions, all kinds of methodologies, and even books that go into detail on how to arrange the parts and execute to succeed where success is defined as completing the project on-time within budget. From my experience so far, all of this is not sufficient and is ineffective at guaranteeing a truely predictable successful outcome for a given project. The most important element in successful project execution is the human element! You can have all of the details worked out, but if you have the wrong team, you’ll fail. You can have none of the detials worked out but if you have the right team, you’ll still succeed.
Let me start with scope. In any simple project, there are hundreds or even thousands of details, specifications, laws and processes that must be followed. Even if you define the scope so meticulously that you outline all of these factors, you are not guaranteeing that the team executing the project will always follow the scope, the specification or the contract and maximize the quality of the result. Furthermore, as you define your project scope, you can be certain that no matter how careful you are the scope will change due to unforeseen details that arise after the project is underway. The common practice is to pad estimates and to leave wiggle room; and the more complex the project, the more padding there is limiting your ability to control costs.
Next is time. Of course, you can estimate and even get your team to agree and sign papers that they will meet the timeline. However, those unforeseen issues that come up as you execute will invariably affect the timeline as well. You can try to add people, you can add money, you can increase resources but even that does not guarantee that the scope will be delivered with high quality on-time. As more people are added, the complexity always increases and the projects have even more unforeseen issues.
The third factor is resources or the costs. You can hire the most expensive team, you can hire the least expensive team, you can manage the team yourself, but unless you execute the entire project yourself (not feasible for large projects) you cannot ensure that the costs will be minimized.
In my experience, only the human element makes the difference. You must choose extremely carefully who you involve to help with the project. The right people will overcome the unforeseen issues quickly and effectively, they’ll work well with others, they’ll commit to delivering the highest quality, they’ll make all the difference. In my past projects whenever the team worked well together, nothing could stand in the way. Whenever the team did not work well, nothing short of changing the composition of the team could make a significant difference.
I suggest that you spend most of your time in selecting the right team. The details of the scope, timeline, and costs can be worked out easier with the right team. As I execute my projects, I realize daily the criticality of the human element and am spending more time thinking about it above all other factors.