There are no secrets to project success. Right?

telling-a-secretHow many times have you seen articles with headlines that read something along the lines of “5 Secrets of Project Success,” or “10 CIO’s reveal their secrets to project management success,” or “9 Secrets to avoid Project Failure.”

I know I’ve seen plenty of these, at least a few every month.

In my view there are no secrets to project success. I’m not suggesting that all project management knowledge is known, but what I am saying is that what is revealed in these articles as “secrets” has actually been known, and in some cases, known for many, many years. Let me give you an example.

I recently read the article “CIO’s Share Their Secrets to Project Success” in a recent issue of CIO Magazine, a publication I really like. It was a good read and I enjoyed it, but there were no secrets shared as far as I could see.

Three CIOs described to the author some of the approaches they take to improve project performance. Let me summarize what each one said.

CIO #1: Recognizes that projects suffer from poor planning and unclear value ownership. He set up review committees to address priority, value and ownership. He measures ROI before and after the project is done. During meetings they go over priorities and make sure everyone is working on the high impact projects.

This CIO has implemented portfolio management. There’s nothing new here. PMI issued a report a while ago that disclosed that organizations that use a systematic and structured portfolio process tend to have more project success. Of course, that wasn’t altogether “new” news either. The concept has been around a very long time. Why would a company start a project if it didn’t know what the return was going to be? Can’t find a secret here.

CIO#2: He converted the technology roadmap, which he aligned with his company’s three strategic elements of growth, quality and the customer, into a cluster of independent projects, each with a deadline of 90 days. He also applies a flexible agile approach to getting the work done and created communities that generate ideas and solve problems.

More than 20 years ago the Federal Government saw the fallacy of “grand designs” manifested in projects that lasted for years. In several reports, and regulations, it encouraged and directed its agencies to break up projects into smaller and smaller chunks. More recently, it released a 25 point plan basically saying that no project should be more than 120 days. Thousands of articles have espoused this approach and an equal number of companies practice this approach. Agile has been around for more than 10 years and has proven itself over and over again. Pardon me, but I don’t see a secret here.

CIO #3: Says what is needed is an honest dialogue because projects get done through people. Encourages all CIOs to build relationships with the “speakers of truth.” Encourages other CIOs to cultivate communications channels to learn what’s going right and what’s headed for trouble.

I don’t know how many leadership theories there are, but everyone of them that I’ve come across talks about the benefit of being yourself, talking to people, and treating them like human beings, not like the automatons some managers wish they were. People need to be respected and listened to. It just shocks me that this advice is somehow presented as a revelation. Anyway, you guessed it, no secret here.

I don’t mean to be overly, and overtly, negative. I’m not that kind of person. These CIOs seemingly are doing a good job and have been kind enough to share their tips with the rest of us. Catchy article titles have always been used to get people to read the stuff written by reporters, and bloggers like me! So, maybe that’s what’s going on.

However, what are billed as “secrets” are actually good PM practices, practices that have stood the test of time. They just need to be implemented. I think the best kept secret of all is how do we get managers, executives, and project managers to implement the practices that will keep them out of trouble?

If you have the secret answer, please let us know!

By the way, for all you Beetle fans, here’s a clip of the lads singing their famous song “Do you want to know a secret.”


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “There are no secrets to project success. Right?

  1. Perhaps the secret to project success is to ignore those who profess to know the secret to project success;


    perhaps the secret to project success is to ignore those who want you to pay them to tell you what you already know;


    perhaps the secret to project success is to realize those who profess to know the secret to success for your project without knowing the requirements, expectations and deliverables of your project must be direct decendents of P T Barnum who is best known for the quote “There is a sucker born every minute!”