In my travels, I try to pick up tidbits to help me be more effective at managing projects. We’ve all seen the various tools, techniques, methodologies, etc. to help us deliver against The Big Three: cost, scope and time—but is that really all there is? The funny thing about projects is that success is declared despite most of the project participants knowing that the outcome was somewhat less than successful. Why is that? You hear things like, “It came in on time, under budget and was executed exactly as documented in the requirements.” So it must have been a success, right? And yet there is an unspoken disappointment because it’s not really entirely what was envisioned.

The other day, I ran across a great piece by Gartner about improving project success. Its premise was that if you focus on three things—Partnership, Requirements and Resources—you can really increase the probability of a successful project outcome. Wow! . . .something different from The Big Three!! I was easily able to relate requirements and resources back to the big three, but what about partnership? The formal definition of “partnership” (courtesy of my dictionary) was of little use, but when I looked at its synonyms, I found words like alliance, collaboration, connection, relation, and union. And that’s when it hit me. Partnership doesn’t relate to the big three but rather comprises the foundation that enables us to deliver on them. Without true partnership, project realization or the ability to deliver the expected value from the project is unlikely.

This should have been obvious considering the successful projects I’ve participated in and led. It was partnership at all levels that helped drive realization. From various IT organizations to external partners to the client organizations themselves, the most successful (and fun) projects were always built around partnership. In fact, one might argue that partnership was more important than The Big Three because these successful projects weren’t always on-time, on budget or delivered as initially envisioned. Instead, the customers were heavily engaged along the way, were part of the decision making process, were active participants in validating and re-validating the scope, and were integral parts of testing and acceptance. And so, while I very much agree with the Gartner’s assertion, I would add that management of the big three is table stakes in today’s world—the true differentiator on projects is partnership.

Lennon and McCartney wrote the lyric “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,” and I would propose that they got it right: with a little help from each other (in partnership throughout all aspects of a project) we can greatly improve the chance of success.

What do you think? Do you have any examples of how partnership drove success?