The Secret of Successful Projects

Since you are reading this, you may be hoping for a list of policies and procedures to make your projects run more smoothly. I’m sorry to report that it isn’t that easy. Agile techniques are not going to save you. New technologies aren’t in themselves a solution. Adding new, intelligent people will not help. Working your people to the bone won’t make your project successful.

The key to successful projects is to be a better person:

  • Care about others
  • Do your best
  • Be trustworthy

The importance of trust is explained in detail in Built on Trust (Arky Ciancutti and Thomas L. Steding): an organization with an atmosphere of trust is enormously more effective than one that lacks trust. The book stresses that a culture of trust cannot be bought. In an environment such as Silicon Valley, where ample venture capital tends to be available, trust can be the key differentiator that makes one organization stand out above the rest.

To establish trust, you must naturally be a person of your word, and you must work consistently to create an atmosphere that allows others to be straight with you without penalty.

Built on Trust describes a healthy and effective habit called closure, which means always giving others information that they can count on in order to prevent them from wasting spin cycles wondering about what is going on. One simple example of closure has to do with dates and deadlines: in an organization with a culture of closure, people will reflexively commit to dates and they’ll stand by them. Moreover, if circumstances change, they’ll notify their manager immediately the moment new information is known.

It isn’t easy to instill such a trust-centric culture; doing so may impact the entire organization as well as your specific project, and this may require buy-in at many levels.

One key step is to start telling the truth at every turn in order to establish a track record of trustworthiness. Merely pretending to tell the truth won’t work in the long run, because people are very perceptive and will eventually realize that you aren’t being straight. You create an atmosphere of mutual respect by proving that you stand behind the actions of your team and that you will go down with the ship if need be. You demonstrate that you will not sell people out for your own gains. This cannot be done with lip service.  

Once an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect is established, you can begin to instill a cultural norm of 100% closure. Within an atmosphere of trust, closure isn’t hard to sell, because it is just a form of respect: by giving people closure at every turn, you’re proving that you care about them and that you value their time.

In an atmosphere of 100% closure, drama and unnecessary spin cycles are dramatically reduced, allowing everyone to focus on their jobs. Such organizations will almost always defeat competitors that are plagued by infighting due to lack of trust.