Business Problems and Solutions

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Survey results are a funny thing. The same set of numbers can be interpreted as good or bad, for or against. It’s all about the story you’re trying to sell.

And, in full disclosure, my pitch is that our project success rates are lower than they could be. More often than not, our projects are leading to more sighs, eye-rolls and potential train wrecks, than smiles and celebratory coffee and cheesecake.

The source for my numbers comes from three surveys. Two from the U.S. and one from the U.K.

Let’s start with some positive numbers to provide balance to the idea that project managers, teams, and stakeholders need a boost.

Celebratory Coffee and Cheesecake

From Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2018:

  • Since 2013, we’ve seen a 27 percent decrease in the amount of money organizations are wasting due to poor project performance. As of this research, 9.9 percent of every dollar invested is wasted, down from 13.5 percent in 2013.

Wellingtone PPM Intelligence’s The State of Project Management 2018:

  • 46% of projects are mostly or always completed on budget.
  • 36% of projects mostly or always deliver their full benefits.

2017 Gallup State of the American Workplace:

  • The percentage of “engaged” workers in the U.S. — those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — is now 34%.
  • The percentage who are “actively disengaged” — workers who have miserable work experiences — is now at its lowest level, 13%.
  • The remaining 53% of workers are in the “not engaged” category. They may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace; they will usually show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.

There are strong numbers amongst the statistics, and the trend is undoubtedly moving upward. Which is a good thing for us, our organizations, and clients, especially when compared with the benchmark 1995 Standish CHAOS report:

  • “…software development projects are in chaos…”
  • “On the success side, the average is only 16.2% for software projects that are completed on-time and on-budget.”

That’s nearly 300% improvement in 25 years. Things are looking good indeed. Waste is down, and benefits realization is up. Awesome! But we’re not there yet, and here’s why.

Eye-rolls and Train Wrecks

  • For every $1 billion spent we are still throwing away $99 million? For every two projects we start, only one will hit budget, and one in three won’t deliver on its expectations?
  • Imagine for every ten gallons of fuel we buy, we were to pour one of them straight onto the ground. How large a spill would that be after six months or a year? What if we did the same when filling up a nationwide fleet of overnight trucks, full to the brim with packages? Packages whose contents stand a one in three chance of arriving smashed to pieces.
  • 54% of projects are over budget on completion.
  • 64% of projects do not deliver their full benefits.
  • 53% of employees don’t care about their work and would jump ship for only a slightly better offer.

Those are grim numbers, no matter what the trending line says.

Stopping the bad practices and starting to behave in ways that keep people coming back for more, that’s how we change those numbers and raise the curve from failing or just doing okay, to delivering great projects.

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash