I read an article recently about the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane which passed certification allowing the company to build for commercial use. The new passenger jet is intended to revolutionize air travel in many ways. Whether it is the travel experience itself or the cost to ownership for the airlines this new plane will usher a new era of air travel. The article pointed out though that the project to develop the plane was significantly delayed. Even though the organization does not reveal costs to the market, it is rumored to have been grossly over-budget as well.
While we might find it easy to judge the project as a “less than successful” endeavor, I believe that it would be neither fair nor accurate to do so purely on the fact that it was over cost and behind schedule. Furthermore, when it comes to the general public, I suspect we will never really know whether the project was managed effectively or not purely based on these parameters.
What’s really fascinating here is yet another reminder that often times schedule and cost could likely take a back seat to the ultimate outcome of the project. Obviously there’s a bit of a ways to go before the effort can be deemed a success, but the organization’s management is quite optimistic. They have reason to be of that opinion given the order book associated with the plane.
Success measures in any project are difficult to identify and yet I have to admit that project such as this one, and many others I’ve read about and been part of, force me to question whether it is time to change the way we look at project and team performance. There are some in the profession who advocate for an idealistic view of performance based on numbers and variance. Perhaps that view is too naive. Certainly in Boeing’s case numbers will matter a great deal, but interestingly it is not the project cost and timeline that will matter. According to what the article stated what will matter is the profitability of the plane and its contribution to the organization’s bottom line.
If we take a step back here we realize that there is a silver lining to those of us who are involved in projects that are behind schedule and over budget. Namely, if the ultimate outcome is a success, stakeholders will forgive these variances and indeed perhaps even poor project management. However, if the ultimate outcome is bad then the PM and the team are in trouble.
This may be good news but I suspect few PMs would be willing to risk being over budget and behind schedule on the off chance that the overall outcome is good.