Who is judging your project?

This month the theme here on this blog is how projects are judged – a theme very close to my heart since I wrote a book on the topic in 2012. I could go on and on about how to set up schemes to assess project success and manage stakeholder expectations, but I won’t. At least, not today. Let’s talk about something else, something that is aligned to that but that you really need to get straight before you even think about working out success criteria.
Who is judging your project?
Projects don’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t just you and your project team. Someone set your project up because it needed to be done. Perhaps it meets a tactical requirement such as sorting out an operational problem. Perhaps it’s part of a longer term strategy to drive revenue. Projects happen because someone decided that they should. And they also get to decide if your project has been a success.
Normally this person acts in the role of project sponsor. If it’s a committee that proposed the project, they will choose someone from amongst the ranks to be your project sponsor and represent their interests. They are typically the person who has the most to gain from whatever it is that your project is going to deliver. An IT Director would sponsor a project to upgrade the data center to the latest hardware, but not a project to improve the customer complaints process.

Beyond the project sponsor
Of course, the project sponsor has a large part to play when it comes to judging whether the project has been successful or not. They will help you identify and define success criteria and you’ll take your steer from them with regards to the direction you should go in to be successful. Their opinion matters. But they aren’t the only one who counts.
Your project team will be made up of a wide group of professionals, all with diverse interests and expectations (at least, it should be. If you have a team where everyone has the same outlook you are less likely to achieve success, according to McKinsey and there has been other research into this too). Everyone on the team will have an opinion about whether your project is currently successful and is going to continue to be successful up until the point that it finishes (and for a long time afterwards).
Building close working relationships with everyone on the team will help you identify what a successful project looks like to them. The motivation for everyone is going to be different. A junior project manager working alongside you might feel that the project has been successful if she manages to get sole responsibility for the next project that comes along as part of her career progression. A network engineer would consider the project to be successful when all the data center hardware is upgraded. A business manager would judge success as there being no downtime and no interruption to service. Everyone will look at it slightly differently.

Balancing the demands of your customers
When I talk about customers, I mean the people who receive the services and benefits of project management. As project managers, we provide a service to internal (or external) clients, and they are our customers. We exist to serve them and to deliver a service to them – the service of project management. They get to decide if we’ve done a good job.
If you start thinking about your project stakeholders as customers of the project management process it becomes easier – I think – to manage their expectations and requirements. You’ll be able to see how you’ll be judged by them and how they will judge your project because suddenly it’s all a lot clearer. When you put the project manager in the position of delivering a service, it changes your mindset.
This attitudinal change makes project managers more aware of how what they do delivers value (or otherwise). You judge people who deliver services all the time: a waiter, a ticket agent, a salesperson in a shop. Think of yourself like that and you’ll be able to see what they value and why. And of course, talking to them helps. Ask them what is important to them and then make sure you deliver that. If you can’t, tell them why not. In my experience most people are reasonable when they have to confront the fact that their expectations are unrealistic.
This is just a short introduction to the idea of customer-centricity on projects and how that relates to success criteria, and if you want to find out more you can find a talk on the subject here. How do you stakeholders look when you think of them as customers? Let us know your thoughts on this topic in the comments.

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