What do “Great Projects” have in Common?

The article, “What Great Projects Have in Common,” gave a great overview of the common characteristics of highly successful projects. The overview was based on research and initially included the following selection measures.

  1. It was a major undertaking of strategic importance to the initiating organization.
  2. Its outcome contributed substantially and for an extended period of time to the performance of its organization and the well-being of customers and users.
  3. It was highly innovative from a scientific, technological, design or operational perspective.
  4. The project’s outcome had a major impact on its industry and stimulated others to follow in its footsteps.

(Dvir and Shenhar, 2011)

With the selection measures listed above, 46 projects were selected from various industries. The list was then narrowed down to 15. This was based on a survey from five experienced executives, and the projects ranged from the construction of The Sydney Opera House to the launch of the extraterrestrial spacecraft into the Milky Way (NASA’s Kepler project).  Interesting enough, out of the 15 great projects, 12 of them shared the following common characteristics listed below.

  1. A great project involves creating a unique competitive advantage and/or exceptional value for its stakeholders.
  2. These projects began with a long period of project definition that was dedicated to defining a powerful vision and clear need and selecting the best execution approach.
  3. Great projects create a revolutionary project culture.
  4. A great project needs a highly qualified project leader who is unconditionally supported by top management.
  5. Great projects maximize use of existing knowledge, often in cooperation with outside organizations.
  6. These projects have integrated development teams with fast problem-solving capability and the ability to adapt to business, market and technology changes.
  7. Great project teams have a strong sense of partnership and pride.

(Dvir and Shenhar, 2011)

From this aspect, I think that the “Configuration Management” project that I am currently co-leading with my manager displays most of the common characteristics of great projects. This project is a multi-year global project, and the goal is to develop an end-to-end product life cycle solution that includes designing and implementing a combination of best practice processes, procedures and tools.  It also includes creating a systematic and controlled environment of configuration management that is scalable for the entire company. Most of all, the project displays common characteristics #1, #2, #3, #6, and #7, and will be changing the company culture and the way Baxter Healthcare does business. Similarly, my manager is a highly qualified project leader that has top management support for this highly visible and strategic project. However, one area that we need to work on is common characteristic #5. We need to benchmark with other companies to learn more about best practice processes, procedures and tools for configuration management.

Overall, what do you think great projects have in common? Do you agree with the initial selection measures and seven common characteristics?  What examples can you provide from your previous project experience as great projects?



MITSloan Mgt Review_Spr 2011_What Great Projects Have in Common

One thought on “What do “Great Projects” have in Common?

  1. Does creating a great project need to include a ground breaking or revolutionary idea? It seems a lot of the there is a focus on the need for something rather dramatic and/or unique, which I am not sure is absolutely necessary. In my opinion, a simple idea or change using existing information can have just as powerful of an impact as a ground breaking or revolutionary idea.

    What if there is an existing program in place that is flawed. Instead of basically reworking the entire program, you make a minor adjustment or two to the program as a means to make it more efficient, more productive, more valuable etc. This minor adjustment then leads to significant improvement in quality, production and profitability. The end result is the dramatic change and major increase in value that is sought after but a revolutionary approach was not needed.

    Through my own experience, I have learned that more often than not it is best to keep things simple and not try to “reinvent the wheel.” I feel projects and models based off simple ideas and principles are most effective and will yield the desired results.

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