How to develop a continuous project culture to boost project success

Making project success a part of your strategic goals

As the PMI Pulse of the Profession global survey found earlier this year, more projects fail today than since studies of project failures began. In fact, a study all the way back in 2004, by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, found that just 2.5% of organisations could claim 100% success with their project work.

The majority of projects suffer from failings that include being over-budget, delivered behind schedule, or delivering less than expected outcomes. Some suffer all three project failures. Having discussed “Why do projects fail?” in my last blog post, in this blog post I’m going to look at why organisations that develop a continuous project culture have a higher rate of project success.

The benefits of a continuous project culture

Your organisation’s culture envelopes your values and beliefs. It informs how your people act and react. If your projects are considered by all to be mission critical, you’ll increase your project success rate. People will become involved with those projects, offering their feedback, opinions, and advice. When this happens your projects will be delivered within cost and within schedule. Your project management teams will be more effective. Staff morale will increase, and employee turnover will fall. Your bottom line will improve.

Enabling a continuous project culture

To produce these benefits, you’ll need to:

  • Put a reporting structure in place
  • Prioritise projects
  • Measure performance against valuable metrics

You’ll need to understand what your ideal project culture is, and develop ways to measure where you are now and how to get to where you want to be. Then you’ll need to plan to change culture: a project in itself. Here are four steps to do so:

1.      Set up a project management committee

This committee’s job is to oversee the project of developing a continuous project culture. Build this committee with a mix of functions and staff levels. Bring in a seasoned project manager to help direction. The committee must have a clear purpose and goals, with a defined communication strategy. It should challenge wider staff to come on board with the aims and goals of organisational strategy.

2.      Explain to all employees the importance of project work

Communicate the mission of project work, and how projects and a project focused culture will benefit all employees.

3.      Assess current culture against the desired outcome

This is where the real hard graft begins. You’ll need to assess the level of collaboration and cooperation on project work. Discover is people are currently working on projects, the scale of their project tasks, and how they view the importance of their work. Use a 360 degree feedback survey to understand how your current project management is viewed by employees. You’ll discover what it is that is holding you back from your project goals, and the new culture that needs to permeate every level of your organisation.

Often a lack of engagement is at the core of project failure – people become involved too late in the process, believing it is “not my responsibility”. This late arrival of talent and knowledge is at the heart of scope creep – the big reason behind project failure rates.

4.      Work to close the gap between the existing ambivalence and the engaged culture you’re targeting

The project management committee will need to develop strategies to resolve the gap between the here and now and the new culture needed. This may be training, or cross-functional working, or introducing project work to a wider base of knowledge: creating a workforce of ‘project management thinkers’.

Benefits to your organisation

By creating a culture of focus toward project management, you will create an environment where projects are owned not by a single sponsor but by all employees. This will help to engage people earlier on project work, identifying key issues sooner and reducing scope creep. Once this is achieved, your organisation will be in a better position to join the 2.5% of companies that enjoy 100% project success.

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