Despite all of his attributes and accomplishments, Abraham Lincoln acknowledged he wasn’t a good project manager. “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me,” he said. Now, admittedly, Lincoln was conducting a project much larger and much more complex than we encounter, but the principles remain the same. How do you take control of all of the variables that constitute a project and find predictability in the outcomes?

In order to create predictability in execution we must control events. That is the essence of project management. In order to control events we must anticipate what may precede or follow each expected event and what may happen during each event. Our ability to do this effectively comes with the anticipation of what each step will entail in order to create predictability in the outcome. We must also have a basis for dealing with the unexpected and to return, in-line, to the expected as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Projects, and IT projects specifically, are notorious for their high rate of failure. But why, after all of these years of implementing IT projects, do they still fail? The answer may seem simple, but the contributing factors are many and complex. Most projects fail due to the high level of variance that exists at the start of the project or is introduced during the course of the project. To paraphrase Marcus Buckingham…variance is the enemy of quality. It’s the enemy of predictability. It’s the enemy of repeatability. It’s the enemy of achieving what is expected. All of which are necessary to achieve success in projects.

Variance comes in many forms. People. Defining the End – scope. Environment. Methodology – execution. Work share – who does what. Roles and Responsibilities/Skills. With each source of variance, if it isn’t known or easily identified and managed, projects will not be successful. Instead they will take brute force to complete and even then may not achieve what was expected.

Over the next several months we’ll examine each source of variance, how that variance is introduced and what can be done to identify, minimize and control that variance.  Variance is the bane of unsuccessful projects.  To drive success, we must identify it, minimize it and manage it.