Inverted Pyramid of Project Success

The Inverted Pyramid of Project Success: Business Objectives, Shared Accountability, Comprehensive Requirements, Strong Relationships & Servant LeadershipIn my career, I’ve managed many projects of varied size, scope and budget. From a couple people and a couple thousand dollars, to global efforts encompassing hundreds of employees and millions of dollars. However, when I look back, I notice 5 attributes common among the most successful projects. I call these attributes the Inverted Pyramid of Project Success and it goes like this:

1. Business Objectives: Different people give this different names. Some call it “executive alignment”, others “leadership agendas”  or “corporate goals”. In essence, this bottom tip of the inverted pyramid is all about gaining support from the top-down (or in this case, bottom-up). A project that is aligned with overall business objectives will garner support when needed.

2. Shared Accountability: From your customers, partners and all stakeholders, it is important to share accountability for overall success. If any particular stakeholder group has no accountability, they will lack sufficient motivation for their participation or deliverables.

3. Comprehensive Requirements: Too many projects start without really understanding what is needed for success. Comprehensive requirements drive accurate budgets, timelines and resource plans. Capturing all requirements also drives understanding and thorough prioritization vital to successful decision making.

4. Strong Relationships: Most projects require some give-and-take. Tradeoffs will be necessary and often, stakeholders need to trust each other to deliver on commitments. There will be trying times, especially in larger projects and high risk efforts. On the twisting road of project management, strong relationships smooth the bumps and straighten the line.

5. Servant Leadership: It is important that all stakeholders, but especially the project manager, reflect the attitude and principles of servant leadership. As the team recognizes the selfless attitude, dedication to the team, and overall focus on serving the needs of the organization, greater motivation, teamwork and results are achieved.

As you climb the inverted pyramid from bottom to the top, you spend more time and effort on each step. Furthermore, while each step may occur throughout the project life cycle, it is important to first focus on each step in order. In other words, in the very beginning of the project, it is important to ensure alignment with business objectives. It is also important to ensure shared accountability before developing comprehensive requirements. The exception is servant leadership, which is critical to practice throughout, from the very beginning.

When it comes right down to it, the most successful projects contain all attributes of this inverted pyramid. Can your project be successful without one or more components? Sure. However, from my experience, the best way to ensure your project’s overall success is to build it upon the Inverted Pyramid of Project Success.

Question: What would you add to the inverted pyramid of project success?

  • Al Cini

    Great article, Ben. In particular, the base of your pyramid captures the essential difference between Project Management and Project Leadership: “It is important that all stakeholders, but especially the project manager, reflect the attitude and principles of servant leadership. As the team recognizes the selfless attitude, dedication to the team, and overall focus on serving the needs of the organization, greater motivation, teamwork and results are achieved.”

    • http://modernservantleader.com/ Benjamin Lichtenwalner

      Thank you, Al. I always appreciate and value your feedback.

      Servant leadership is definitely the most critical piece to sustainable project and/or program success.

  • Norman Reiss

    Great followup to my recent Nonprofit Bridge post on project success.  Especially like focus on detailing requirements at early stage of process.

    • http://modernservantleader.com/ Benjamin Lichtenwalner

      Thanks Norman – what’s the link to that post? I am sure the other readers here would appreciate it as well.

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