What Project Success Looks Like: Breakfast

Tacos. Coffee. Skip it.

Those were some of the results of an activity I used to do in a workshop I used to teach in a former life on Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager.

The idea was that I would give participants 30 seconds to write as many words as possible that mean the same thing as breakfast on a post it note. Then they’d share those words with the person next to them, giving themselves one point for every word that they had written down EXACTLY the same as their partner.

The results? Usually zero points. Sometimes 1 or 2. Almost always, no more than 3.

Then I’d point out that every single one of us in the room are at least familiar with breakfast, even if we don’t always have it. I’d give them a hard time about why they weren’t on the same page. I’d point out that the task could not be simpler!

Then I’d ask what went wrong. And inevitably someone would say, “you rushed us into the task”. Someone else would add, “we didn’t know we’d be checking our words against someone else”, and “breakfast is a huge topic” and “you just assumed we were all on the same page”. Bingo

At this point, I’d purposefully walk slowly across the room, click to the next slide and say, “and THAT’S why it’s so important to get clear about what success looks like on our projects”.

When we can’t get on the same page about breakfast, a topic we all know and are familiar with, imagine what happens when we talk about things like “on time”, “within budget”, “customer satisfaction”, “collaboration, and so on.

This is also where I would pause for effect before moving on to the next topic.

By now you know where I’m going with this right? Don’t make assumptions about your projects and what people understand about them, especially in the realm of defining success. We all have unique experiences and they all play a role in giving us different perspectives on the same things. Often, we’re close enough to take those first steps forward, but in the long run, the detail and differences emerge in a way that will cost us time, resources, and rework if we’re not careful.

So before you get that next project up and running, get clear about what success looks like. You’ll be glad you did.

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