What makes projects successful? There are a lot of factors, but one that’s overlooked (and often hoped for) is luck. 

Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

In my experience, when we focus on three things at the beginning of projects, we create conditions that produce good luck rather than bad luck down the road. 

1. Engage the right people in the effort

So often projects affecting people throughout an organization are started and managed by just a few people in one area. 

For example, if a new payroll system is being put in place, the IT and Accounting staff are usually consulted, but often forgotten are all the people who will be entering time and receiving their pay. Without their understanding and perspective, there’s potential for an unlucky outcome Consider the company that rolled out its online time-tracking system only to realize a whole group of people didn’t have computers to access the system. 

Document who will be affected or could affect the project in a stakeholder register. 

2. Get agreement on where you’re going

I’m always amazed at the different ways a single project is described by different people. Even the name of a project can vary from person to person. I’ve been in situations where people thought three or four projects were taking place, when it was all a single effort. Making sure that the key executives who set vision and control resources have agreement helps prevent an unfortunate misunderstanding, or reallocation of funds or people. 

Create a project charter with the sponsors to define key roles and a shared  definition of success. 

3. Jointly agree on what will be done and when

So often the project managers have a well-defined expectation in their heads and in their schedules for what will be done on the project, but the people who need to do the work haven’t been involved in developing that schedule.

This means that

  1. key performers don’t understand what’s expected, and
  2. the project manager doesn’t have a realistic understanding of what’s really required to complete that work.

Once completed, the schedule is sometimes is not updated regularly or shared with the team, which means they can’t plan for upcoming work.

This often produces an unlucky situation where the project manager asks for some task or deliverable to be completed, and the team member then either has to

  1. drop some other work or 
  2. delay the schedule. 

The resulting ripple effect spreads bad luck throughout the organization. 

Create a project schedule with the project team and update it regularly.

Next steps

In future articles, I’ll focus on explaining these best practices in more detail and provide tools you can use to improve your luck. 

You can also learn more about Best Practices in Project Management in our next class


Bud Ratliff is the president of Solarity, enjoys serving its amazing people, and contributing to the success and luck of our customers.  He actively supports the community having served as President of the Project Management Institute (PMI) Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter and as a charter member and VP of Administration and Finance of the Bluegrass International Institute of Business Analysts. Microsoft selected him as a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) six times. 

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We partner with organizations and individuals to help them go “from inspiration to implementation” by helping them to define the right work, plan the work, and work the plan.