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July 2, 2015

The Standish Group's "Chaos Report 2015" was recently published.  Standish gathers data from projects done across a variety of industries.  They present the data in buckets of "successful, challenged, or failed" projects.   I'd like to highlight my two key learnings after reading the 2015 Chaos Report.


Standish redefined what "successful" means in 2015.  Previously, a successful project was on budget, on time, and on target (e.g. scope).  Standish admits "on target" was never a good measure because it lacked any measure of customer outcome.  They even note there are many projects that met the triple constraints, but left the customer unsatisfied.  So they replaced that measure with a measure of customer perceived value.  This resulted in a 7% decrease in the rate of successful projects

You read that right.  If we start measuring ourselves the way our customers measure us, we're doing at least 7% worse than we think we are.   This should be the final nail in the coffin of traditional scope/schedule/budget project management.


“We found that both satisfaction and value are greater when the features and functions delivered are much less than originally specified and only meet obvious needs.”


— 2015 Chaos Report, Standish Group




There are three clear things you can do to increase your chance of project success.

1. Run small projects.

Regardless other factors, small projects are more likely to be successful.  By a factor of at least 10, up to 30.  Over half of the huge projects return low or very-low value.  Full stop.  With this data, I can no longer understand why any huge project should ever get the green-light.   Take the time to break projects into small pieces of work.  Big batches & long queues are universally bad.

2. Run agile projects.

Across all sized projects, agile projects are 350% more likely to be successful.  This difference is minimal when running small projects - 32%.  But at the huge project end of the spectrum, agile projects are 600% more likely to be successful.  This is really strange, considering the intense focus on "scaling" that exists in the agile industry.    Indeed, it's waterfall that sucks at scaling.


“The overall results clearly show that waterfall projects do not scale well, while agile projects scale much better.”


— 2015 Chaos Report, Standish Group



3. Train your agile teams.

The data suggest that every time the team "levels up," the likelihood of project success goes up by 23%.  From the lowest unskilled-untrained teams to the best "gifted" agile teams, there is a 224% increase in chance of success.


If you haven't already begun changing your organization to redefine how you think about success, start now.  What matters most is the value your customer perceives.  Traditional scope/schedule/budget is a poor proxy.  And keep running small agile projects, with focus on the skills and training of folks on the team.

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