8 Steps to Project Success

Lessons from a Simple Audacious Project

My previous post Why Do Programmes Fail? generated a lot of traffic. It proved to be a highly emotive subject with some great comments trying to answer the question. The answers ranged from:

  • failure to agree the scope
  • failure to engage stakeholders
  • optimistic and ultimately dishonest reporting
  • inexperience of the programme manager
  • changes of personnel

So lets change the situation and look at an example of a simple tangible project where the dynamics are much simpler:

  • Short defined timescale
  • Clear and unambiguous specification
  • Fixed team members with subject matter experts
  • Success criteria very obvious
Project Success

Project Success

The example I am going to use is a bunch of guys at a model flying club meeting in Denmark. These guys normally build radio controlled aircraft of the type and size most of us will have seen but a group of them conceive a really audacious task over a few beers. The task is clearly stated.

They are going to build a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 from scratch over their weekend meeting.


  • The DC-10 is built from an A4 plan showing front, side and top elevations
  • The aircraft is to be 1/10 full size
  • It is to be powered by a single turbine model jet engine
  • Control surfaces to be operated by radio control using standard model servos
  • The total all up weight must be less than 25kg for legal compliance
The A4 Plan

The A4 Plan


  • The model must look like a DC-10
  • It must be capable of flight
  • It has to be completed and flown at the meeting

Now I want you to spend 22 minutes of your time watching this clip from Sept 3rd 2011. The screen goes blank for a few seconds a couple of times during the video but please stick with it.

Now that you have watched it!

Most of you watching will have smiled when the DC-10 took off! I bet that many of you would have even applauded when the DC-10 landed and in some way, even as an observer, you felt part of this team, perhaps you even felt you would love to have been part of the team. You felt inspired.

We see from this example that:

  • Clear roles are essential, the engine expert, the people working on the fuselage, the guy flying the plane
  • A sense of humour helps to oil the wheels when people are working together
  • They had a clear objective, make a 1/10 scale DC-10
  • Success criteria was obvious and tangible, the DC-10 needed to fly and to seal it land undamaged
  • Most people watching would say at times it looked like the real thing in flight
  • They had an engaged audience, they applauded and cheered
  • They celebrated success with photographs and champagne

Since the team are from Denmark many of you will not understand the dialogue but you will feel the enthusiasm, the delight and celebration because this is infectious and universal. Think about how different the video would be without the sound!

8 Simple Steps for Project Success

  1. Make the objective clear and unambiguous, use simple high level statements that people can get their heads around
  2. Make the criteria for success clear, obvious and compelling
  3. Get the right people on the team, people with the right skills and a ‘can do’ attitude, make it ‘One Team’
  4. Make sure you have a good plan with all of the resources to hand or available
  5. Make sure that you do everything you can to make the team bond as friends with a common purpose
  6. To really engage your people make the whole project lifecycle fun with open communication
  7. Be prepared for changes along the way to counter the inevitable unknowns at the outset (adding weight to the nose)
  8. Celebrate success, capture the moment and feel good about it

Thanks and congratulations to Kasper Holger, Keld Hanson and the DC-10 team at MFK Falken!


2 responses to “8 Steps to Project Success

  1. Keith,
    A very good evening to you! I love your posts – one of the most useful things I’ve done has been to connect through LinkedIn to you.
    One small but important point (as somebody who has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with various mega buck programmes AND toy aeroplanes) – each of these guys brings an inordinate amount of talent and experience to solving the problem. So while much is achievable in a short period of time with a team, the team HAS to have the talent to deliver – and there is no substitute for talent. Choose your team carefully – a talented team is your passport to success.
    Keep up the good work! And – more importantly – look forward to working with you in the future……

    Dave C.

    • Dave, thanks for the comment, keep them coming. I hope you enjoy reading my other posts. I guess the idea of building a DC-10 appeals to you, it did me. Keep in touch and keep checking the site. I also have a company name on LinkedIn you can follow.

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