Published here August 2003. 

Introduction | The Success Principle | The Commitment Principle 
The Tetrad-Tradeoff Principle | The Strategy Principle | The Management Principle
The Single-Point Responsibility Principle | The Cultural Environment Principle | Conclusion

The Success Principle

To realize success, we must first define what we mean by success. In the hockey world the ultimate victory is the Stanley Cup. While only one team can win the Stanley Cup in a given year, several will vie for the it, some with a realistic chance of winning, some with an outside chance, and some are playing just to reach other goals. Certainly, teams that don't live up to expectations will be deemed unsuccessful, but that is a reflection on the whole organization, not just the people on the ice.

The hockey organization includes the players, coaches, medical staff, management, and the owners. It also includes the farm teams where players and coaches are groomed and drawn from when ready for the big time. Those chasing other goals, be they new franchises or clubs in small markets, understand that they don't have a reasonable shot at the Cup so they set goals that they can achieve. Perhaps their goal is a rise in the standings compared to the previous year. Perhaps they strive for a playoff position.

What great hockey organizations do is define success at the beginning of the year. They may not win the Stanley Cup but they can meet and exceed their potential. What great hockey organizations do not do is set their people up to fail by setting unrealistic expectations.

What does success mean in project management? Max Wideman, author of First Principles of Project Management, says: "The goal of project management is to produce a successful product". He goes on to say that many projects have been on-time and on-budget but the product hasn't been successful while many other projects have missed their budget and timeline goals but the product has been very successful. The Standish Group has compiled statistics over the years that show a very high rate of IT projects missing budget and timeline goals.[2] If in fact on-time and on-budget were the key criteria for success then why would organizations continue conducting IT projects with such a high risk of failure? Why start something if you have only a slim chance of succeeding?

The answer is that the project's stakeholders do not always share a common understanding of success criteria at the start of the project. Perhaps what stakeholders really want is the product or service implemented in such a manner that their business objectives are met. Conceivably, meeting cost, quality and scope objectives for that particular project may be secondary to getting it launched during the window of opportunity. But because this is not clearly understood by all at project kickoff, decision making during the course of the project and customer satisfaction at its end is based on individual, biased perceptions, instead of being based on organizational strategies or goals.

Can you imagine what would happen in our hockey example if the owners' success criteria was to win the Stanley Cup this year, but the General Manager thought he was team-building this year in preparation for a run at the Cup next year? The GM might trade players and future draft picks away. He might promote or demote players to give more ice time to some and less to others. He might make other, forward-looking decisions, unacceptable to anyone in the organization because of the discrepancy in understanding.

We can assume that this would be corrected quickly. But we don't hear of these situations because in professional sports organizations the meaning of success is well defined and understood at all times. And just as hockey teams define success at the beginning of the season, the project organization needs to define and understand what success means at the beginning of each and every project. Only then can they gain the commitment necessary for achieving success with everyone involved.

Introduction  Introduction

2. The CHAOS Study - Standish Group Findings, Retrieved 19 January 2003, from
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