Project Practitioners > When Force of Will Is Not Enough

When Force of Will Is Not Enough

By Niel Nickolaisen

Sometimes there is a really good reason for project success. And, sometimes, that reason has nothing to do with my motivation, determination, or "force of will".

I was once asked to lead the restart of a project that had previously failed several times. I, fresh off a string of strong project management performances, was certain that I was the person that would finally deliver this project. After all, each previous attempt on the project had been missing two essential ingredients - me and my "force of will". Knowing this, I plunged right in; purposely oblivious as to real the reasons for the previous failures. After all, I did not need to analyze or understand the project history. I just needed to be me.

A few months later, after a string of missed deadlines, cost overruns, and complaints about the project turning into another death march, I finally woke up. Perhaps there was a tiniest of possibilities that I and my force of will were not what determined project success. On the off-chance that the project needed something beyond me, I started to talk to those who had participated in the previous project failures. I listened to the experiences they shared. I asked them what, knowing what they now knew, they would do differently. I then connected cause and effect. As I compared their failed approach to mine, the stark reality hit me: I was doing exactly what had not worked for them. I was blinded by my hubris!

Fortunately, it was not too late for me to change my ways. I used their advice to change my approach. I broke the project into smaller, more manageable pieces. I focused on what we knew how to do and deferred all other decisions. I leveraged early wins to build support for the more complex aspects of the project. And, I delivered the project. But, even better, I learned to stop believing that I was the critical project success factor.

A few years ago, a large technology company announced the acquisition of one of their smaller competitors. The same day, a reporter interviewed the CEO of the acquiring company. The reporter listed the sorry track record of similar technology acquisitions and asked the CEO, “What makes you think this acquisition will be different?” The CEO, in a Niel-like moment, answered, “Those other acquisitions failed because we were not the company doing the acquiring. I, and my management team, know what to do to ensure that this acquisition generates business value for our shareholders.”

A few years later, that CEO was replaced by a disappointed board of directors. One of the stated reasons for his departure was the poor integration of this very acquisition.

Now, whenever I start to think that my presence and aura are a guarantee of success, I recall my own experience. I then treat each assignment with humility and perspective.





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Interesting insights ! You have integrated the lessons learnt and make future projects to achieve more possible success.

This really helps, as it saves time, prevents reworks, and helps us to start on the right footing.


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