What's the secret behind a successful project: Project managers or project processes?

Two scenarios explore the reasons behind a project's success and a project's failure.

Tips for how to become a project manager

Companies often celebrate successful projects and anguish over failed ones without always knowing, which was the key factor in the outcome: The project manager (PM) or the process.

How do you decipher what causes a project to succeed or fail? Check out the two scenarios below for the answer.

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Scenario 1: Hiring a top project manager

You hired the top project manager that money can buy. She comes with an impressive set of credentials and training. What's more, she has countless project hours under her belt and terrific references. The project launched successfully. Everything your new PM does is top-notch: Stakeholders were identified and included, and the PM's people skills, documentation, communication, facilitation, and professionalism is nothing short of exceptional.

Despite all of the PM's planning and execution, the project starts to go sideways, stress cracks show, and the project seems to come apart at the seams. You pull aside your star PM and convey your disappointment and concern that you aren't receiving the results you expected from this highly recommended project professional that you hired.

Did you hire the wrong PM?

The short answer is not necessarily. A project manager, even the best one, can't create miracles if your company isn't set up or wired for project success. A company's processes and culture also factor into the success or failure of projects.

SEE: Project failure: 10 excuses your boss doesn't want to hear (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

A PM is not responsible for or able to re-engineer processes, internal practices, policies, politics, or the hierarchy and culture that might impede progress and success. Although project managers should be equipped to deal with ambiguity, conflict, and obstacles, these operational factors are outside of their control and can significantly hamper their ability to fully deliver.

The key to reducing these risks is facilitating a joint effort between the project sponsor and the PM to ensure potential barriers are addressed and resolved before and during project execution.

The PM's role is to keep clear and prompt communication about potential risks and concerns that might become problematic. The rest is in the hands of company leadership and sponsors.

Not even the best project managers can meet project goals without the complete backing and support necessary to ensure company processes and policies facilitate smooth project execution.

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Scenario 2: Implementing the perfect project environment

Your organization has gone to extreme ends to ensure it is set up correctly and conducive for successfully executing projects. Your policies and processes are clear and supportive of project management, and every employee and stakeholder is on-board.

Now it's time to hire a project manager for your next project. You have trouble finding a PM with the knowledge or experience for your industry, product, or service. Time is ticking, and the decision is made to hire a less qualified PM without the experience or training you wanted. All project managers are created equally, right?

Initially, things go well with your new PM, and you believe that your processes will keep things progressing smoothly even if the PM isn't prepared.


Processes are not a substitution for the leadership and judgment required to keep a project within scope and deliver based on project expectations. Your processes simply serve as a roadmap for a qualified PM to follow. A project manager must be able to read, understand, and follow that roadmap if the project is to be successful.

SEE: How to kill a project gracefully (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What successful projects need

Project success or failure relies on both the PM and the processes. Both play a vital role, especially as obstacles and risks surface during a project. Having a substantial gap in project processes or significant gaps in your PM's capabilities can set your project up for failure.

Only when companies strive to hire experienced and qualified project managers and create an environment conducive to a project's execution are the conditions ideal for success.

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Image: Deagreez, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...