I received great feedback on the Goldilocks post. Thanks. Thinking about it more, I realize I was describing the ?what? of good project management ? not too hard, not too soft. The bigger question, though, is how do you get there? For every Baby Bear out there, there are plenty of Papa Bears and Mama Bears.

If Baby Bear?s style seems right to you (as it does to Red Three), here are our four keys to a successful project:

1) We acknowledge that we don’t know exactly what the end result will be.
Formally, people refer to this as Agile project management, and it’s fundamental to every software or reporting project we do. It demonstrates how software is different from other kinds of projects. When architects design buildings, they want exact specifications: size, shape, color, and so on.

In software, the end result isn’t so clear. We have a basic idea of what’s supposed to happen, but often we don’t really get the full picture until we’re into the project.

2) At the same time, we believe it’s better to do some thinking than to blindly have at it.
Or as I like to say, “Put your hands in the air and step away from the keyboard.” Many software developers love writing code and dislike almost anything else. So, once they have a basic request, they?re off to the races. This doesn’t work well. While you may not know exactly what you?re going to do, if you don’t spend as much time thinking about the problem as you do writing the code, you?re not going to get a good result.

3) We have a culture of trust, where we emphasize responsibility, not liability.
Not having everything laid out in advance (the Mama Bear position) increases the likelihood of making mistakes and having higher costs than your original budget estimate. In some companies, that’s ok. In other companies, they believe, ?if you don’t nail it down, you?re going to get nailed on it.? This doesn’t work. If you want to live in the Baby Bear universe you have to accept that estimates are just estimates. Sure, you can’t be regularly off in cost or time by orders of magnitude, but 10% here or there shouldn’t be a huge issue. More importantly, you have to use mistakes as an opportunity to learn ? not a way to score political points.

4) Our projects are a joint effort of IT and business.
Goldilocks didn’t just throw down her requirements and disappear for a month. She checked in. She answered questions. She tested. IT projects die because people stop paying attention or because people who’ll use the software don’t have time to work on the project.

Are there any more keys to successful projects? What would you add?

 

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