The Australian small business sector is feeling the squeeze as it navigates the dual challenges of competing in a multi-channel, global marketplace,  while meeting the demand for localised, bespoke customer experiences. In addition, consumers are showing hesitancy in their purchasing decisions, while regulators expand their purview.


Being able to do more with less, being able to adapt, evolve and respond to market challenges with a constant focus on customer experience management has never been more important. Innovation requires leadership but also creativity – it needs a culture where people can do their best work and set the standard for the industry. There is no better place to start building this culture than in your project teams.

Barely a week goes by without us hearing or reading about a major project that has failed, together with the financial and reputational cost to the business responsible. It is not only large-scale projects that are failing either; I regularly overhear conversations in airports, cafes and at school about the poor performance of smaller projects  and their project managers.

A recent survey undertaken by the Standish Group in the US estimated that only 29% of projects were considered successful, a worrying statistic made even worse by the fact that number is the same as it was in 2004.

With the world moving forward constantly in terms of better and smarter ways to do things, project management seems to be one area that remains frightening stagnant. Eleven years with little or no progress should be a cause for alarm and a call to action for those who invest large sums of money in project managers.

As a time-served project manager myself, I quickly learned what I needed to focus on to ensure that the people who depended on me weren’t left disappointed.

Managing a project – any kind of project – requires that you build relationships and that you are good with people. If you prefer to work on your own or the thought of motivating people fills you with dread, then you either need to develop a new skillset, or you need to leave project management to someone else.

So here are my five tips to making every project successful.

  1. Be the best version of yourself at all times

The best project managers are ‘Conscious Project Leaders’. In other words, people who take the time to think about how they need to behave and what they need to do, to be role models for others. People who are present and understand fully the responsibility they have. They understand that it is behaviour that will make their leadership style memorable, both positively and negatively. They are kind, caring, thoughtful, proactive and courageous and that anger, aggression, deceit and selfishness will only undermine what they’re trying to achieve. They understand that consistently displaying positive behaviours will encourage a supportive and productive culture, important for the next tip.

  1. Create a team before you create a plan

Conscious Project Leaders take the time to get to know and understand each individual who are going to be involved, at the start of the project. They find out about their experience, their personality, their family, the things they enjoy and the things they don’t. They understand what it means to be empathetic and can recognise when things aren’t right. They encourage, reward and recognise and don’t get down on people for being human. They ensure that the team works together to define how they’ll get things done, so that they can hold each other to account throughout the project and ensure that poor performance is managed well. Building the team before the plan is written also ensures that they are committed to each other before the detail is gathered. Project management is a relationship business, so every project should start with building them.

3. Create a detailed plan, then manage it well

Every project needs a plan. If it doesn’t have a plan, it’s not a project, it really is as simple as that. The size of the plan should be in line with the risk and complexity of the project, not necessarily the cost.  Amazingly, almost every business I have worked with spends more time and effort justifying the project (to itself usually), and almost no time planning it! A plan should be created by the project leader based on the input from others – that is, everyone who has an interest in the project succeeding. A plan will include detailed items including the scope and benefits of the project, the stages and stakeholders, how the changes will be managed and the culture principles.  A good plan is the foundation for a successful project and needs to be managed well throughout the life of the project. Neglecting it will inevitably lead to failure.

4. Put the stakeholders at the heart of everything

Stakeholder satisfaction is paramount, and is at the heart of everything that Conscious Project Leaders do. They ensure that stakeholders are satisfied with the design, build, test and implementation of the products that have been created.  Stakeholders should be confident with the way that the team is being led and progress is being communicated.  Project leaders need to always ask themselves, ‘what’s the right thing to do by the customer?’  This way, the end result is anticipated, rather than being different to that which the stakeholders originally commissioned.

5. Make decisions quickly, then move on

Project leaders are key negotiators and decision makers for the project team. To be successful, you need to learn how to be direct when asking for input or feedback and to bring solutions to every problem. The team and stakeholders are counting on project leaders  to keep momentum and enthusiasm high, especially when work feels overwhelming. To keep forward momentum, project leaders have to be confident in their skills and intuition, add in feedback and input from relevant others, make their decision and then move on. It takes courage, but there is nothing worse than a project leader who procrastinates!

You never forget Conscious Project Leaders. They do these five things really well and so much more, yet they will tell you that they’re just doing their job. They take none of the credit for successes and all of the blame for failures. In a world rife with continual project failures and embarrassment, we need more Conscious Project Leaders.