Do you know the success triangle?

Predicting project success from the very beginning.

Why do some teams continuously achieve much more than other teams? Of course they are real teams with mutual trust between everybody and they are composed by a bunch of high performers. If you have such a team, fantastic, just be grateful and move on.

But such stellar teams are usually of short supply. Especially in the project world you are usually confronted with a very different situation. For each you project a new team gets put together which usually has never worked in this constellation. It’s very typical that project teams are composed by people of different backgrounds, from different functional areas and with different cultural values and beliefs. And even their allocated time to the projects varies a lot, from full time project members to “2 hours a week” participants.

Due to this projects are a quite difficult thing as your challenge is to deliver an important change into your company, competing against a tough time target from moment zero, with a bunch of people who rarely know each other, much less being the high-performance-problem-solving-monster-team you might need.

Although that all projects share this kind of difficulty it’s interesting to see that often it’s easy to predict success of such a team from the very beginning. But how to predict success? What are the elements you should focus on when putting a new team together for an important project that needs to succeed?

Team-skillset triangle

Here comes the triangle into play, for successfully executing a project your team needs a 2 of 3 in skillset coverage.

There are 3 fundamental skills you team should possess. For a team to win the race against the deadline you need a healthy combination of

  • Business knowledge,
  • Technology knowledge
  • Project Management knowledge

Usually the members of your project team can be mapped to at least one of those categories. Some people have the ability to cover even multiple categories of the skillset triangle, these people are pure gold to your project success.

Interestingly in my experience teams can compensate weaknesses to a certain level. If your teams shows a weakness in one of the 3 skill categories it can still be perfectly successful, but if 2 categories or all three show weaknesses you have no chance of success.


Weakness can be of various nature, but usually they are caused by

  • very junior people not having the right experience needed,
  • disempowered, disengaged and de-motivated people how either don’t believe in the value of the project or in the way the project is managed
  • low-performers in their field of expertise (most typical cause)

You might think, how on earth does a low-performer get into any important project.

The simple reason for this is many organisations lack of focus. By running too many projects in parallel big organisations tend to dilute their project execution capability. As the lack of prioritisation by top management leads to an unhealthy number of parallel execution activities the corresponding project teams get filled with “whomever” is available, even by those increasing productivity when being ill or on holiday 🙂

When acting in the role as manager for a project it’s absolutely crucial to take this rule into consideration when setting up teams. Make sure you think about success prediction when setting up the team. Try to be informed on the capabilities of the employees which are appointed by the functional areas to support your project and carefully try to make sure that at minimum 2 skill categories are covered with solid and strong team participants.

In case you don’t know the persons being appointed to your project make sure that you spend a lot of time with your team members observing their work and behaviour. If you doubt having the right team setup, lacking two or more skill categories, make sure that you come to this conclusion early in the project. Exchanging some of the team members and replacing them to fill your skillset GAP has absolute priority over all other activities.

More on teams, projects and management in the content area or on my twitter.

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