Daptiv’s David Blumhorst Turns Definition of Project Success on Its Head

Project success has nothing to do with time, budget or scope according to David Blumhorst the Vice President of Solutions and Services for Daptiv. David recently sat down with Cornelius Fichtner on the PM Podcast to explain how these three constraints, traditionally thought of as solid measures for success, are actually better suited to gauge performance. Projects are investments and their primary purpose is to drive change; therefore, even if time, budget and scope are met but the desired change does not occur how can the project be considered effective? Instead, David recommends PPM professionals define the business objective they’re trying to achieve with the project and then assess its success in accomplishing this goal. 

David suggests PPM professionals determining their business objective ask themselves: What is the primary reason for investing in this project? Does it align with the purpose of the business or is it an unnecessary expense? With this business target in place, instead of measuring tasks which allocate valuable technical skills to monitoring, PPM professionals can optimize those same resources and lead their team to a project bulls-eye.

Once PPM Professionals have redefined project success, David recommends avoiding these top four common pitfalls:

  • A lack of business goals – Without a goal scope creep can become endless, pulling a project away from its target and towards a pricy budget and lengthy timeline.
  • Starting a project not aligned with business objectives – Determining upfront if a project is a good investment or a waste of limited resources is crucial.
  • Failing to plan ahead for ROI – Measuring a project’s return on investment requires forethought. Once a project is finished, it is difficult to determine this measurement if there was never an initial baseline established for comparison.
  • Excessive spending – Breaking the bank can be a product of the scope creep which can occur when the project is not aligned with a specific business objective.

David also encourages project managers to think outside the box to avoid locking themselves into rigid structures that don’t serve the project. To stay on track, here are his top four tips:

  • Have an elevator speech – Every project should be accompanied by a 30-second elevator speech that describes its purpose and reasoning in just a few sentences. This makes it simple to regularly revisit the business objective to quickly determine if the project truly aligns with the overall goals of the organization.
  • Consider other measurements in addition to ROI– Factors such as employee and customer satisfaction should be taken into consideration, as ROI is often not the only indicator of success.
  • View projects like you do investments – Look at multiple projects as investments in a portfolio, create rating systems, and determine the return on the portfolio as a whole.
  • Complete a success survey after each project – Survey stakeholders and shareholders to determine if the desired outcomes from the project were achieved from their diverse perspectives.

For more information on defining project success, you can listen to the entire PM Podcast online. Daptiv would like hear how you determine if your project has been a success. What types of metrics have you used to determine ROI? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to us on Twitter at @Daptiv.

10 Ways to Absolutely Ruin your Projects

Instead of providing a list on how to successfully run a project management office, I chose a different route and set out to assemble a list of valuable information that guarantees project failure under any given circumstance. If you are a project manager or run a PMO, the recommendations you will read below are full of promise and will definitely get you into trouble.  With that in mind, here are…

10 Ways to Absolutely Ruin your Projects

  1. Start a project without a defined goal or objective:  Like a ship without a destination or a race without a finish line, starting a project without a goal is an exercise in running in circles.  No matter how much time, effort or money you through behind it, you’ll never accomplish what you set out to do because it was never clearly defined.  Then again, it’s also a great way to stay out of trouble because you’ll never know when your project is ‘moving sideways’.
  2. Run a project that is not aligned with the company’s objectives:  I know ‘mobile tech’ is really cool.  So is ‘social media’.  So let’s kick off a project to do that.  Wait a minute.  Did we ever check with our customers – both internal and external – if this is what they are asking for?   Do we know if this project help move the company’s goals forward?  I don’t know, but let’s call it “Rogue Project” because it sounds so cool.
  3. Manage a project that does not have a sponsor’s support:  Like a football quarterback without his offensive line, running a project without a sponsor to provide direction, remove obstacles, and ensure support to move the project forward is a great idea.  Please let us know how that works out for you, OK?
  4. Make a project more complex just for complexity’s sake:  If two levels down into the work breakdown structure is good, six levels is great.  It’ll show people how much more smart and experienced you are than them.  If you can do this effectively, it leads to…
  5. Micromanage your team, especially the senior level people:  Which studies show is a great way to lose supporters. Really fast.
  6. Don’t consider the benefits or ROI before you kick off the project:  Project benefits are so hard to define.  And who knows if we’re ever going to achieve them anyway.  So let’s not worry about it.  Just give me that bag of money so I can start my project already.  It’s not about value after all – it’s about working with cool technology.
  7. Recreate the wheel when starting a project:  I know my organization has done something like this before, but I’m really, really smart and don’t need the help.  I’m happy to start all the deliverables from scratch.  Or maybe this time I’ll just make up a new methodology.  Why recycle and reuse when I can just recreate?
  8. Allow your project’s scope to change on a whim:  if we don’t have a good change control process it makes the project easier.  If we learn new things, let’s quickly move in that direction.  We can call it ‘iterative execution’.  Just like a new puppy deciding if he wants to chase a ball, bark at the other dogs or have a snack.
  9. Don’t check in with the stakeholders or customer through the lifecycle of the project:  we already understand what they want, so bringing in them back in as we move through the project will only give them a chance to get more engaged and supportive.  Nah…let’s just surprise them at the end.
  10. Spend, spend, spend:  Don’t worry about budgets – they’re just rough estimates, anyway.  If we need to get more developers and fly the team out to Las Vegas for a workshop, so be it.  By the time the financial team finds out it will be too late anyway.

Hopefully the list above is taken as a cautionary tale – maybe even a checklist of what not to do.  How do you stack up against it?

Organizational Change Management – Part 2: How Does Change Impact Individuals?

When we make a change, individuals may be asked to take on unfamiliar or uncomfortable new roles.  Life becomes less predictable and less controllable.  Individual status and standing is affected as those who used to be considered experts become learners, just like everyone else.   By examining and discussing an organizational change in light of how strongly it impacts individuals and how they are likely to react can provide valuable insight into risks associated with resistance, non-acceptance, poor morale, fear, turnover, etc. While the project team can take an initial pass at this, participation by affected individuals from multiple organizational levels will provide a more realistic perspective as well as valuable input around mitigation strategies.

Questions to use in identifying risks from disruption may include:

  • Are different skills required to use the new process (or tool, or methods)? Are they related to the existing skills?
  • How much of a change does this represent to the person/people performing the work?  Will this create more work or less?
  • Where did the request or idea for the change come from?  Do the new processes address a problem identified by the people doing the work or is the primary impetus external (required by someone other than the impacted organizations)
  • Will this change result in staff changes, reallocation or reassignments?  Do people believe it will?
  • What is the level of additional effort required to make the change?  Do individuals see the additional effort as excessive?  Is the organization willing to accept a temporary drop in productivity as a result?

 How Does Change Impact Organizations?

Organizational structures refer to the organizational constructs which have the potential to support (or derail) an organizational change.   By the organizational constructs we mean the structures that define the organizational hierarchy (who’s in charge, who reports to who), the agreed upon roles, responsibilities and levels of authority.  The organizational structures define who makes decisions and, in some cases, defines the processes for how those decisions get made.  Organizational structures exist at many levels; across the enterprise, within individual departments and in the form of temporary organizations which may include committees, task forces and project teams.  An individual project can both affect and be affected by organizational structures.  Additionally, the organization structure of the project itself may contain risks:  conflicting functional objectives or approaches, different toolset and standards, or different reporting relationships can inject risk into the project.  This is especially true when the members of the project team are from different companies where the interaction between the members of the team may have contractual or financial implications to one party vs. the other (Hendrickson 1998).

All projects are subject to risks related to organizational structures.  Loss of sponsorship or priority resulting from leadership changes, changes in decision-making processes, renewal of commitments from reorganized functional areas all introduce risk into the project.  Also in any project, the structure of the project team itself may be the source of certain risks.  Weak matrix teams must consider the risks associated with negotiating for priorities and scarce resources with functional managers, while dedicated project teams must manage the risks associated with staying connected to and consistent with the direction of other parts of the organization.

There is however evidence that there are two other types of risks specifically associated with organizational change:  1) the impact of changes on the way an organization is structured and interacts with others and 2) how well the project integrates or fits into the larger organization.

When a project is going to impact an organization structure, our organizational change strategy must consider the socio-political implications of the changes being proposed.  Often changes are perceived by an organization or the individuals within it as a threat to power, control, influence, status, access or resources (including people and money).  Concerns may also arise about the dynamics of interactions between organizations based either on past experiences or a desire to preserve the status quo.  In either case the reactions, both rational and emotional, may manifest as vehement objection to total withdrawal of support for the project.  What at the outset of the project may seem like a straightforward set of decisions about who is going to do what, become complex negotiations escalated up to the most senior levels of the enterprise.  In some environments, even a minor change to the composition or responsibilities of organizations may require huge amounts of time and resource to redefine and document the detailed process and interactions of those reconstituted groups.  While some organizations are adept at making these changes, others are much more resistant and may require more time to fully design, document, and review before they will accept or relinquish responsibilities.  In efforts where the organizations cross corporate boundaries (multi-company efforts) contracts may need to be renegotiated or terminated.

In considering organizational disruption consider the following questions about the proposed or planned changes:

  • Will this affect the overall role of an organization?
  • Does this affect the level of control a department has over their work?  Will this be seen as a loss (or gain) of control?
  • How will the project team interact with the departments?
  • How will this affect how organizations interact?  Will it make one organization more dependent upon another?  Less dependent?
  • Does this affect staffing levels or reporting relationships?
  • Do we know the procedural requirements of the functional department.  Are there any processes or procedures which are a mismatch to how we intent to operate?

Implementation Activities

Once the nature and scope of potential changes have been identified and understood it is reasonable to assume that the appropriate activities needed to effectively address the organizational change requirements of the project can and will be effectively executed.  But here again, those project teams not familiar with or sensitive to organizational change activities may find themselves challenged to determine how best to execute the organizational changes needed for successful project implementation.   Fortunately, there are a number of approaches that can be used, individually or in combination, to address organizational change.

Communication and Commitment

Good communication across an organization is always important, but when an organizational change is involved the importance increases.  Communication from the most senior levels of management demonstrating commitment and support of the change is critical and is most effective when the rationale of and urgency for the change is clearly explained.  When Lou Gerstner took over a troubled IBM in 1993 he recognized that employee communication was an essential part of the effort to transform the organization and return it to profitability.  Gerstner knew that the impending changes would cause pain in the organization but that they were necessary given the magnitude of IBM’s crisis.  He recognized that as CEO his role was to “strongly and continuously” communicate both the crisis and the plan for addressing it:

“All of this takes enormous commitment from the CEO to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.  No institutional transformation takes place, I believe without a multi-year commitment by the CEO to put himself or herself constantly in front of employees and speak in plain, simple, compelling language that drives conviction and action throughout the organization.”  (Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change,  Louis V. Gerstner, 2003)

While Gerstner’s transformation effort was far broader than the organizational changes associated with most projects, the need for strong consistent executive commitment and ongoing communication of that commitment are equally essential.

Two-way communication between the project team and the impacted organizations is also a critical component for successful organizational change.  While executive communication focuses on why the change is needed, these need to focus on the content of the change (the what) and how it will be implemented.  By communicating what and how, impacted individuals and departments have more time to think about and adjust to the upcoming change.  Likewise for the team – open, two-way communication between the project team and the impacted organizations can significantly reduce the “element of surprise”, where unknown objections or problems surface at the last minute.

Phasing and Chunking

Another strategy for mitigating risk is associated with organizational changes is to introduce the changes gradually either by phasing in the changes within the project or by dividing a larger projects into phases or ‘chunks’.  From an organizational change perspective the incremental approach has a number of benefits.  First, smaller changes cause less disruption which in turn may reduce the amount of organizational and individual resistance.  Second, smaller efforts may be seen as more achievable, encouraging support and buy-in from impacted organizations.  Third, lessons learned in earlier stages, about the organization and how it reacts to change, can be integrated into later efforts.  Lastly, individuals and organizations involved in earlier organizational changes can be called upon to assist in “selling” the effort to others.


In implementing new products, systems and processes we often ask individuals to quickly acquire and apply new knowledge on the job.  Even with the best most comprehensive training programs turning “what one learned” into “what one does” back on the job can be frustrating and stressful.  Combined with the demands of “getting the job done” these frustrations and stresses can result in a backlash that threatens the success of the project.  One strategy that reduces impact  is providing coaches to support the initial implementation.  The role of the coach is to help people quickly work through problems or issues, share knowledge about nuances of the new product or process, and act as a conduit for feedback to the team on usability issues or other functions and features that were great ideas in the lab, but not in practice.

The most effective coaches are individuals who were actively engaged and part of creating the new product or system being implemented.  These people intimately understand not only the mechanics of using the product or process, they understand why certain things were done the way they were and the intent of certain design decisions. Optimally the coach is able to share that knowledge – enabling the new user better understand the rationale and apply the change more effectively.

Part 1: The Role of Organizational Change Management in Project Success

In its most fundamental form change management is what we do to control and manage the impact of a change.  For example, Project Change Management provides us with a mechanism for controlling and managing changes that left unchecked could prevent a project from accomplishing its objectives.  System/Configuration Change Management is how we ensure that changes to computer systems and applications have been adequately tested and controlled so as to minimize the risk that a change will cause an error or interruption in service.  But how are we managing the impact of changes on people in the organization?  Are we deliberately taking action to control the impact of change and encourage adoption or the change or are we assuming that everyone will joyfully embrace change and adopt whatever is being introduced without question, resistance or complaint?

Experience shows that the most successful change efforts, whether they involve the introduction of a new product, business processes, or a business model, include a conscious effort to understand and manage the impact to people and affected organizations.  Indeed, Organizational Change Management (OCM) is quickly becoming one of the disciplines or practice areas recognized as essential to project success and we will frequently see specialists and consulting firms specializing in OCM either involved in major projects or in helping organizations implement OCM processes.  But in organizations or projects that don’t have formalized processes or resources to dedicate to OCM activities, the responsibility for identifying, planning and executing OCM-related activities falls to the manager and the project team.  In this article, we will explore why OCM needs to be considered in every project and how effectively identify, plan and manage those changes to support project success.

Organizational Change Management as a Project Component

Organizational change is generally defined as making changes within an organization that will affect the way the way individuals and groups operate and interact.  Introducing new processes or technologies may change the way jobs are performed, redefine roles and responsibilities, or change reporting structures.  More often than not organizational changes involve new expectations, new processes and tools, new partnerships and relationships.

In some cases changes to the organization are intentional and the role of Organizational Change Management in the project is obvious.  Organizational transformation initiatives and projects are undertaken with the primary objective of consciously introducing specific and often sweeping changes designed to improve organizational performance.  These projects focus on the changing the way the entire organization or a large part of it operates.  Transformation projects involve radical restructuring of job responsibilities, operating processes, and reporting relationships, major changes to how employees are evaluated and compensated and, in some cases, attempts to change the underlying organizational cultures and behaviors.  While these projects and their parent initiatives introduce significant organizational change, these are fairly well documented and the literature is filled with case studies and strategies for managing the changes resulting from kind of endeavor.

In other projects however, organizational change is not the primary project objective but instead a by-product or a component of the project:  something that impacts the organization in such a way that the organization and its people must change to adapt to or absorb that impact.  Much like a rock hitting a pile of sand, organization changes form as a result of the impact whether or not it was intended or accidental.  For example, consider a project to move a department from one office space into another – while the project team might be focused on the move itself, the people being moved are focusing on things like is the new space comparable to their old space?  Is it larger? Smaller?  Located closer to a window? Farther away?  Might their new location be perceived as  more or less prestigious than their current space?  Is the new space that someone else has been given a reward?  Or perhaps a punishment?

Organizational impacts may also result from the deliverables of the project or from how the project is organized and how it operates.  In other cases the impact is to the project itself; internally or externally introduced organizational impacts that force some organizational elements within the project to change.  Whether internal or external, caused by the project or affecting it, all of these impacts have the potential to significantly change the schedule, cost or scope of a project or program and, as such, require mindful and effective management.

Identifying Organizational Change Impacts

Like managing anything else, the first step in managing organization change is to identify what kinds of organizational impacts may result from the project effort.  Like in risk management there are organizational changes that we can anticipate and others that may appear from nowhere.  Needless to say, we want to anticipate and plan for as many as possible.

Identifying organizational impacts and changes can be difficult even when they are the primary objective of a project and expert resources are deployed to carry them out.  In fact, a large number of transformation projects are challenged or fail outright.  If the success rate is that low in initiatives where organizational change is directly linked to the project objectives and, hopefully, have been considered and planned for, it’s not surprising that organizational impacts resulting from other types of projects are not addressed in the project planning or execution processes and remain invisible until they become significant barriers to project success.

Why are organizational impacts and their attendant risks so often overlooked in projects?  Project management texts frequently identify and describe organizational risks, numerous published case studies on project failures cite organizational change issues as major contributors to project failure, and most experienced project managers have sat through at least one risk brainstorming sessions where someone on the team has brought up an issue or risk relating to organizational change.  In fact, most project managers and teams recognize the potential for risks associated with organizational change, but tend to dismiss them as unmanageable, indefinable or inconsequential.

So the first challenge is simply recognizing that organizational change will be needed for the project to accomplish its objectives.   While sometimes obvious, there are often projects where the need for change is more subtle or where the agreed upon deliverables may be in conflict or inconsistent with the beliefs or values of the organization.  For example, an effort to implement a heavyweight, detailed control process in an organization that prides itself in its speed and agility will require much more attention to organizational change than the same effort might take in an organization that highly values structure, discipline and rules.  In other words, for the project to succeed the mismatch must be recognized and the appropriate changes to the project and/or the target organization must be made.

Even when we recognize that our project will require some level of organizational change management,  we encounter a second challenge; clearly identifying and defining the specific impacts that may  result from or be created by any given project or effort so that efforts to mitigate or manage them can be included in the plans for the project.   This difficulty stems in part from the fact that the reaction to, and much of the impact of organizational change is emotional.  Rather than facing a straightforward issue or risk like ‘ part x doesn’t perform to specifications’,  the project manager is faced with concerns about changing behavior and beliefs, impacting morale and job satisfaction, and anticipating a myriad of emotional reactions which may not respond to a fact-based rational response.  In short, while many of us intuitively know that there will be an impact, we may be hard-pressed to define that impact and come up with effective approaches to dealing with them.

Recognizing the need for organizational change management as a component of an effort and establishing strategies and plans for meeting that need are critical first steps but much more is needed to ensure at organizational impacts are understood and effectively managed in a project.

Planning for Organizational Change impacts

Once we’ve identified where organizational change is likely, we can plan for it.  Obviously planning for organizational change is more proactive than dealing with it as an issue during the project.  Planning can include identifying organization change management activities as part of the project scope and schedule or addressing it as part of the Risk Management Plan.  Needless to say, your approach should be driven by the scope and impact of the change.  The more extreme the change and the more people effective, the greater the need for proactive organizational change management.

Any effort to plan for organizational change must consider: 1) A single project may introduce a number of different organizational impacts, 2) changes may impact different individuals and groups in a variety of  ways and 3) organizations are made up of people will not all perceive or react to the change(s)  in the same way.

Likewise, teams planning for organizational change need to be mindful that the sources of organizational changes are not always obvious.  While most of us are fairly sensitive to how the outcome of our project might require changes in the way individuals and groups operate and interact, we may not recognize that the execution of the project itself may introduce major organizational impacts.  Take for example the major project that requires significant participation of people normally assigned to operating groups. Whether the assignment is full time or in addition to their ‘real jobs’,  these people and the people who are not assigned to the project are being asked to change the way they operate and interact.

As another example, in the early 1980’s I was involved in a project to convert a loan collections operation from a paper-based system for keeping records and notes on collection calls to an on-line system.  The new system required collectors to type their notes using a keyboard.  While quite a bit of planning was done around implementing the new system and training the collectors to use it, and we had not considered the possibility that some of the collectors might not have keyboard skills (the majority did not).  As soon as this came to light, we arranged for training and practice sessions in touch-typing.  Fortunately we caught the issue early enough to minimize any cost or schedule impact.

Unfortunately the lack of keyboard skills was just the beginning of our problems.  It turns out that no one had considered the impact of the transition on productivity:  Forced to use a new technology with newly acquired, beginner-level skills, collections the first month after implementation dropped by 40%.  While some productivity drop had been anticipated by the organization’s management, what was not anticipated was the huge turnover in the collection staff that occurred shortly after the implementation.  It turns out that the collectors’ compensation plan was heavily based on commissions and bonuses for dollars collected and a number of them  were aggressively recruited by a competitor and left for compensation packages that would enable them to recover the income they had lost during the initial implementation.

Here was a case where we recognized the potential impact of using a keyboard, but we didn’t think beyond the objectives of the project to the individuals within the organization.  The moral of the story is that we need to consider a broad set of possibilities in order to really plan for organizational change.  This means looking at how we might be disrupting both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Change is by nature disruptive.  The introduction of new systems, processes, products, tools and methods all have the potential to upset the normal operation of the organization and how individuals see themselves in that organization.   If t we are unable to effectively manage the level of disruption, the backlash will prevent a fully successful realization of the desired project outcomes.  Likewise, if the project team is effective in managing and minimizing the disruption the effected organizations will be more likely to accept and readily adopt the changes being implemented.