Project success is the sum of many factors

Teksti | Mika Launikari

Every project is unique, and a successful project is always the sum of many different components. All projects have their own characteristics and specific requirements that need to be considered in their design, implementation, management, communication and evaluation. It is in the nature of project work that well planned is half done. Of course, a forward-looking project team knows how to prepare for unexpected and unforeseen situations that cannot be fully anticipated even with good planning. In a successful project, the schedule, the responsibilities and commitments of everyone involved, and the quality and cost of the work go hand in hand. Good communication and effective interaction are key ingredients in any project. Skilled management and people-centred leadership crown the project.

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Sounds like a simple and straightforward recipe for success, doesn’t it? But the truth is more miraculous than fiction, and life on a project is not always a bed of roses.

The task of project management is to gather the best possible expertise for the project. This requires the project manager to have a psychological eye when assembling the project team. It is not enough to bring the necessary expertise to the project, but also to ensure that the team members are able to interact, cooperate and manage themselves. In a work-intensive and tightly scheduled project, you cannot afford to include poor performers, indifferent, inefficient or self-centred people, nor the perpetual know-it-alls. The project needs reliable and competent experts with the attitude that ’where there is a will, there is always a way’.

Success depends crucially on how the objectives, planned activities and expected results are discussed and agreed within the project team or multi-stakeholder project consortium at the start of the project. Different interpretations and possible differences of opinion need to be discussed openly and constructively. In the early stages, it is essential to clarify what we are doing together and why, as well as the role of each individual in the joint production. Involving and activating project staff in a variety of ways will lay the foundations for cooperation, commitment and ultimately success. Confidence in the project team is increased when members share a common understanding of the goals and methods of the work.

Effective project management is required throughout the lifetime of the project. It involves careful planning and phasing of the project, sufficient resources, systematic monitoring of progress and reporting. If a project falls behind schedule or fails to meet its (sub)objectives, alarm bells must go off. In this case, the project management and the project team need to take thoughtful steps and precise actions to get the project back on track. Sometimes it is not possible or justifiable to implement the items described in the original project plan in the form or to the extent envisaged. In this case, it is advisable to contact the funder to find out whether an amendment is needed to rectify the matter operationally and financially. It is usually necessary to appoint an external steering group for the project, to which the activities of the project are reported, but which also provides guidance on how the project work should proceed.

Part of the success of the project is the support it receives from the organisation’s management. Of course, top management is not to be burdened with the details of the project, but they are kept well informed about the progress and results of the project. If, for one reason or another, the project runs into a crisis, openness and transparency towards management are essential. It is necessary to consult with management when significant risks materialise and begin to significantly hinder project work. Working together to find a sustainable solution to the risks is vital as otherwise they may overflow and put the project at greater risk.

Awareness and visibility of the project are based on systematic, targeted and consistent communication. Especially in larger and longer-term projects, a lot of money and time is usually spent on communication. In such cases, it is important to draw up an information and communication plan for the project, defining the main target groups, what communication will be offered to them, through which channels, at what time and who will be responsible for it. If communication is not clearly targeted, but scattered, it will not appeal to anyone. If the content, timing and channel of communication are not carefully considered, even a good project will fall by the wayside and not get the attention it deserves.

The project is not an end in itself, but the benefits it will bring to the selected target groups, the participating project partners (e.g. higher education institutions) and their stakeholders, and the impact it will have on society at large. Impact targets are often quantitative, in which case their measurement is based on the collection and analysis of numerical data. Qualitative indicators can also be used to demonstrate benefits and effectiveness, although they are usually more difficult to verify. Impact should be monitored throughout the duration of the project, not just towards the end. In particular, the funder will be interested in whether the project has succeeded in achieving the quantitative and qualitative objectives set for it. Of course, the management of the organisation responsible for or involved in the project is also interested in the same questions.

Information about the author:

Mika Launikari, PhD, M.Sc. (Econ.), works at Laurea UAS as a Senior Specialist responsible for international cooperation in higher education. During his career, he has worked as a project manager for several national and international projects and has also participated in various expert roles in many Finnish and European development projects in the fields of education and working life. Dr Launikari has also worked in the evaluation of project proposals in Finland and for the EU.


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