44 Definitions of Success

Four goals can help project teams find common ground.

By Stephen G. Louis, P.E.

If you were asked to define “success” in one word, what would  you say? If you could give three answers, how closely would your responses match those of your business partners, your clients, or your boss? If you asked 23 of your colleagues to give their top three answers, how many different responses do you think you would receive?

In late 2011, in an attempt to determine my team’s common goal, I decided that I would ask each team member to jot down, “How do you define success?” I would then use their responses to derive our mission statement. Brilliant, right? During my preparation for the exercise, I wrote down five or six potential responses that I felt would be enough in case my colleagues only came up with a few answers. Imagine my surprise when I received 44 different answers on how my team defines success. The responses ran the full gamut from “executing the job ahead of schedule” to “having a big project close-out dinner.”   

I learned an important lesson from that exercise: Each individual has a different view of success, and finding that common ground is essential to a group’s collective success.

So I started consolidating the responses into more general terms. I ended up with four key ingredients that will yield success for any company, whether it is a start-up with five employees or a well-established firm with 5,000. Focus on these four goals and everything else will fall into place. 

Safety –  Without question, the most important goal relates to safety. From our first day on the job as engineers, all of us must have recognized that it would be impossible to be successful if someone got hurt because of one of our designs. In simple terms, if we fail to perform the job safely then all other achievements attained on that project mean absolutely nothing. As engineers we vow to “safeguard life, health and property, and to promote the public welfare,” and we take this oath because we possess a tremendous amount of influence on the safety of others, which is inherent in our day-to-day activities.

Client satisfaction    Once the safety criterion is met, we all feel successful when we hear that the client is satisfied with our work. This indicates that we have met or exceeded their requirements and expectations. This can be difficult to accomplish given the shifting goals or unclear directions that may occur throughout the duration of a project. By emphasizing effective communication — thorough documentation, personal interaction, explaining which goals are realistic and which goals are not, etc. — it is more likely that mutual success will be achieved for all involved parties. 

Budget and schedule  The other key measure of success is associated with budget and schedule. I know this is really two items, but because “time is money,” these two points can be merged into one. We consider the job to be a success when we achieve timely completion of a project as well as create a profit for our company. The ability to meet these two objectives is greatly improved when we set realistic goals at all phases of the project, but principally the tender phase

The challenge is to set the client’s level of expectations high enough to win the work package yet low enough to comfortably execute the job. Never mind the fact that at this early stage of the project most of the variables are left undefined, leaving the engineer to effectively manage the risk involved with making base assumptions without all of the necessary information. Given that budget and schedule are a function of the expectation level set at the bid stage, strive to perform your job with the utmost efficiency, accuracy, and quality. By doing that, you will always reduce your costs and the amount of time to do the job no matter what the budget or schedule is.

Relationships — Finally, our successes are defined by the relationships of those we have come across in our professional careers. This goal doesn’t show up on a ledger and it won’t make the front page of the daily newspaper, yet it is essential because we must rely on others in order to accomplish the first three goals stated above. Our successes are multiplied when we first accept that each individual brings his or her own strengths, Image: Image: perspectives, and ideas to the table. Secondly, recognize how he or she complements the group and balances out other extreme team attributes. Just as a diversified portfolio creates a higher return over the long term, so will a diversified team. 

In our daily activities, we interface with clients, managers, engineers, salesmen, and more, all of whom are ultimately working together toward a common goal — to be successful. This creates a strong bond of mutual trust and respect that allows us to embrace our differences and use them to our collective advantage. 

Study finds ‘lean enablers’ for engineering programs

The Project Management Institute (PMI) and the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) teamed with researchers and industry members from the Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop “The Guide to Lean Enablers for Managing Engineering Programs.” The study identifies 300 lean enablers that are grouped around key lean principles including: 

  • respect for people;
  • capturing value as defined by the customer;
  • mapping the value stream;
  • maintaining flow through value-adding processes;
  • letting customers’ needs determine value; and
  • pursuing perfection in all processes.

To ensure the applicability of the lean enablers to actual programs, two PMI Project of the Year Award finalists — the Prairie Waters public works project in Aurora, Colo., and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Dallas — served as case studies. In both cases, researchers found the programs applied more than 75 percent of the recommended enablers.

More information about the study is available at https://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/70495. 

Stephen Louis, P.E., is engineering discipline manager at EMAS in Houston, a global contracting group providing offshore/subsea construction, marine, production, and well-intervention services. He can be contacted at stephen.louis@emas.com.