The Reality of Project Success


Inspiration can strike in the most unconventional of places. Case in point, as I settle into The Bridge, I am searching for relatable (and fun) ways to explain what we mean by “acceleration.” Currently the practice includes all the ways to enhance the value of a project investment, namely project and change management. We chart a course, remove obstacles, and help you pick up speed using the tools available and adapting on the fly…all in pursuit of success.

Not all that different from your favorite reality shows. No, really! Hear me out. The most obvious similarity is the essential combination of…

Preparing and Adapting

contestants on food network show "Chopped"


In unscripted television and in project delivery, there is no dress rehearsal. Contestants have trained for the moment the cameras come on. All the experience and practice up to that point hones the skills, provides the confidence, and allows some of the operations to shift into the background so the creativity can flow. There are unexpected challenges – requiring creativity and adaptability – but those who have prepared will most likely succeed. It’s not all that different from bringing experience and credentials to bear – but using that foundation to adapt to any unexpected twist to plans, schedules, and resources.

Knowing Your Audience

judges on NBC show "The Voice"

In reality television, understanding the preferences and expectations of the judges is crucial for contestants. Similarly, in project management, knowing the stakeholders and their desired outcomes is essential. What are they looking for? How are they defining success? There will be stylistic and communication preferences, levels of tolerance, and expectations of intent vs. execution. What’s important to one judge/stakeholder may not even register for others. But ultimately, it’s important to identify and address the variety of expectations to come out on top. By aligning goals and understanding the needs of those evaluating the project, you can tailor your approach and increase the chances of success.

Editing with Purpose

contestants on game show "The Amazing Race"

What to do with so…much…footage? Rather than run the real-time data stream and get lost in the noise, we can borrow from reality tv’s propensity to edit. Effective editing shapes narratives and propels stories forward. Why drown in details when the headline is sufficient? Successful projects need to capture and understand the nitty-gritty details but also synthesize the “so what?” Build your story arch at the beginning and provide thematic updates, highs, and lows until the end to keep attention and momentum.

Being Open to Redefining Success

contestants on reality show "american idol"

You may have heard the expression, “when you make plans, the universe laughs.” It’s good to have a goal and the tools and plan to get there, whether that’s go-live by end of quarter or the grand prize in a reality competition. But when the unexpected happens or new information comes to light, success in its original form may no longer be achievable. When that happens – in projects or in television – good things are still possible. Maybe a delay allows additional features or more time user acceptance testing. Even runners-up – when they’ve shown up, worked hard, and won hearts and minds – can go on to be successful. Sometimes a win looks different than the one you envisioned at the start of the journey.

Playing the Long Game

contestants on game show "survivor"

Endurance. Resilience. Grit. Success often comes from consistent effort over time, and progress may not always be linear. In addition to just – you know, not giving up, relationships also play a critical role. You never know when someone from a past [phase, project, challenge] will cross your path again. Build your alliances with care! People can make or break your success. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Next time you’re watching your favorite unscripted show, notice ways these dynamics play out in everyday business. What did I miss?

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