IPMA International Project Management Association
13 November 2017 / 7:35

Do we need faster horses?

Again, I am on my way back home from an IPMA research conference. This time it was held in Incheon, South Korea. I met new people and made new friends, I heard new perspectives and I am so glad for this opportunity. All kinds of new ideas are floating in my head as I cruise over east Asia, 10 km above the surface of earth.

I am on my way back to Europe. The final destination is my beloved home country; a distant island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Again I find myself reflecting on what I just learned. It is truly amazing what happens when people from different parts of the world come together and share their perceptions and experiences. We talked about the concept of project success. Still today, our ideas about this phenonema are simple and pragmatic. For a long time, I have been content with the standard definition, where we portray project success as a simple two dimensional geometric form. Simple is good, right? But we live In a changed world that is somehow getting smaller and smaller – and we are learning that our destinies are interlinked and in the end – success of the few is never a real success if it is at the cost of the many. In Incheon I learned once more the crucial role feelings and emotions play in projects. Even if this is obvious when I think about it, I am stunned by the fact that I have to travel to distant countries to really understand it; when I talk to people who see this as a natural part of life. Where people are seen as the beginning and end of all projects, and the human factors have for long been the building blocks of projects – during all phases of their life cycles.

So I wonder how I should teach my Icelandic students about project success in my next class? Should I yet again show them the good old triangle of success? Or should I experiment with a totally new project success model that captures the viewpoints of my friends from Asia, Africa and South America? I remember a famous quote from Henry Ford. He was asked about the reasons for developing the Ford T model. He said that if he had just listened to what the people wanted, he would have provided faster horses.

We don’t need faster horses in project management. We need to break the shackles of simple ideas when we think and talk about project success. We need to think differently – we need to think more about people. This is my last thought before I fall asleep, 10 km above the great country of China.


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Helgi Thor Ingason

Author of this post

Helgi Thor Ingason holds a PhD from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, MSc from the University of Iceland and a SAPM degree from Stanford University. He is a Certified Senior Project Manager by IPMA. Dr. Ingason is an professor at Reykjavik University. He is the co-author of 6 books on management in Icelandic and English. He is a management consultant and a member of the Research Management Board of IPMA.