Attending the EFCOG (Energy Facilities Contractors Group) Project Management Working Group. One discussion was around the success factors for projects. There were two obvious assessments:
1. Accountability and rigor in the management of the baseline and the process for executing the baseline.
2. Experience of project management
The accountability and rigor is the source of visibility to the performance of the project and the capturing of feedback for corrective actions.
The "baseline" is a concept missing in some domains. The baseline is the metric benchmark against which project performance in terms of time, cost and technical performance is measured. Without the baseline, there is no description of what "done" looks like. Without some description at a level sufficient to control the outcome means that the only measure of progress is the passage of time and the consumption of money.
This is the case no matter what the project domain or context of that project. Controlling the baseline does NOT mean no changes. It means knowing what happens when a change is requested to the cost, schedule, and technical performance
Experience is obvious. But the right kind of experience is critical. The notion that a PM can manage any project is nonsense. The PM's in the DOE work in three major areas: Science, Environmental Management (EM), and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Performance varies between these groups and projects within the individual groups.
In the end, success starts with "past performance." This means I've made it work before, in some way close to what the problem is today. There is rarely a project that is complete "green field," - something that has NEVER been done before.
One recurring theme for projects is the phrase more planning up front. This doesn't mean Big Planning Up Front, just better planning up front. The credibility of the plan when the project starts has to be just that CREDIBLE. The nonsensical notion that we'll figure out how much this project will cost and when it will be done as we go along, is just that nonsensical. This only works if you're spending your own money and you don't care if you overrun. When you're spending someone eles's money, you'd better can some notion of cost and schedule near the start of the project.
You wouldn't hire a lawn mowing service if they couldn't give you some estimate of the cost per month of their work. Why would you engage in an IT project without some upper bound on the cost and duration?