Understanding the project team’s definition of success is important because it helps us understand how the team will behave in crunch time. And yes, crunch time still happens. Recently I asked a selection of podcast listeners and blog readers to weigh in on whether being on-budget, on-scope or on-schedule was the most important attribute of project success. A majority answered that on-schedule was the most important attribute. One of the respondents summed up their rational for choosing on-schedule by saying, “Given the high-paced world we find ourselves in, I think on-schedule is what many now use to judge project “success.”

Dates are projected when a project is conceived. A project will begin on x date and end on y date. These dates create an anchor that will be used to compare performance. Both the business and IT plan based on these dates. A simple example illustrates the cascade effect caused by a project going longer than anticipated. If an e-commerce project has to add two extra, two-week sprints to complete a minimum viable product, the teams working on the project cannot then start the other project they were schedule for when the basic site was completed. That project is now delayed for four weeks, impacting the business and other stakeholders. The rollout of the new site will also have an effect both from an operational and marketing perspective. Plans will need to be adjusted. Because the site is late the anticipated revenues will be delayed and ROI calculation for the project will be impacted. Finally, if the project is large enough, the delay may impact earnings making life uncomfortable for managers and executives. While there are often many reasons for missing the schedule, the schedule miss will be a drag on the perception of success. As another respondent noted, “Oftentimes, I find that the driver of most projects is time…after all, everyone wants things done quickly. These drivers influence successful partnerships or solicitations.”

The news media of all types, popular or technology, continually reminds us that we are living in a very dynamic era. New technologies and businesses rise and fall in a metaphorical blink of an eye. Software and technology are seen as a critical enabler to support the pace of change. Therefore, there is an expectation levied on projects to meet the need for new and changed functionality. Agile methods, which either deliver functionality quickly or continuously, fit well into environments that are dynamic. On respondent suggested that the pace and the focus on being on-schedule was because, “IT projects are no longer simply supporting back office functions.  They are responsible for driving the customer experience.” Customers expect change and systems must evolve to meet that expectation.

The Project Management Institute’s define a project as a temporary endeavor  with a start and end date. Plans are made by the business as well as on a more tactical level within development organizations. When projects don’t happen when they are planned, other projects and events are impacted. Change causes a ripple effect. Methods and techniques like Agile change the playing field by doubling down on the concept of on-schedule. Agile and continuous delivery techniques promise delivery of potentially implementable functionality either as a continuous flow or based on a short known cadence. The customers expectation for when they will get functionality gets set that when we provide a date. Teams tend to pursue the commitments they make, the schedule is often the most obvious of those commitments.