project planningDo you want the truth?  No, I mean do you really want to hear the truth?  Ok…if you’re ready, we’ll get started.  But first, a quick bit of background to set the stage.

C5 Insight has been around for a while, so as you might expect, we’ve been fortunate to have seen the good, bad and the ugly of projects.  Wait…what was that…fortunate?!  Yes, we feel fortunate, even blessed to have experienced everything we have.  Why?  Because it better equips us to help our clients navigate the complex landscape that is business and technology today.

As we became better at tracking every detail of our own projects (you can’t measure or react to what you don’t track, right?), we started noticing some interesting trends.  When we stepped back and looked at our current projects and proposals going out, we began to see that we were often being brought-in as a 2nd or 3rd vendor, to assist with a 2nd or 3rd implementation, or to help a project “get back on track” after it was underway.  We had a hunch that this was the case, but had no solid numbers to back this up until we began to closely track it and run reports from our CRM system to determine exactly how many projects and proposals were “rescue projects.”  The results were pretty surprising.  The reality was that 59% of all new projects for C5 Insight were rescue projects, or what we now call “CPR” projects.  As consultants, advisors, and thought leaders, our initial question was, “What the heck is causing nearly 60% of projects to struggle or outright fail?!”  To see if this was isolated, we then decided to poll a large group of users to determine how their implementations were going.  Were they stalled, struggling, failing - or were they thriving and meeting (dare I say exceeding) expectations?  The results perfectly aligned with what our numbers said, and right at 60% of the respondents said their projects were falling short of expectations.  It was confirmed that this was now the reality.  So, where do we go from here and how do we fix it?

All of that was the beginning of a mission we’ve been on ever since.  We’ve spent countless hours trying to better understand the underlying reasons for these project struggles or failures.  Part of the outcome from this research and work was the development of our 7 Habits, which I wrote a blog series on earlier this year.  Additionally, we combined this research with our 12+ years in business, and developed repeatable frameworks and principles, which we now try to apply to all of our client projects.  The truth is, if we’re not constantly improving, sharing our experiences, and helping our clients avoid these mistakes, then we shouldn’t be in business.  We are extremely passionate about not just doing work, but doing good, meaningful and successful work.  fast forward to today, and having applied them to projects of all sizes, I can tell you without a doubt that they do make a difference in the success or failure of a project. 

For this blog, I wanted to focus on just one of the principles we now use, in hopes that you will be able to compare your current project to this to see if it too is (or could be) soon struggling.  The principle is called The 40/20/40 Principle.  To analyze this, we took all project time and broke it down into 3 categories: Planning, Implementation, Control.  We realize that most projects are often more granular than this, especially with agile, but all projects have these 3 top-level categories.  When we looked closely at how the time was being spent on projects that were not succeeding, the time was allocated as you see in the diagram below.  The pie chart shows the allocation of time for each of these categories.  The line chart shows a typical bell curve allocation of this time in the project.

Diagram 1

What this shows us is that conventional wisdom put the emphasis on the “heavy lifting” of the implementation.  This includes the construction time, building the solution, writing code, configuration, etc.  What this reveals is that the planning and control categories often get the short end of the stick, and as simple as it sounds, we believe this is one of the primary drivers for unsuccessful or struggling projects.  As we looked at projects that we had rescued or simply projects that went very well, we noticed an interesting contrast to the allocations above.  We now call this The 40/20/40 Principle.

Diagram 2

When project time and effort was reallocated into this configuration, the success rate went up.  Now, we realize that there could be many factors that play a part in a project’s success or failure, but by shifting the project to be more closely aligned with 40/20/40, we did see overall project success improve.  The numbers simply don’t lie.  The truth is, the implementation is the “easy” part.  Please don’t hear this as diminishing the importance of the project team and the doers on the project; no project would succeed without them.  However, what this does say is that if you spend a lot of time planning and managing/controlling the project, the implementation will often be less complex (i.e. less time spent there), and there will likely be an improvement in project team satisfaction as well.

Now you may be asking, what exactly is in the Planning and Control categories.  To help you better understand what falls under planning and control, take a look at the table below, which includes just a few of the most critical items in these categories.



Define formal project leadership or stakeholder teams

A formal process for continuous improvement (i.e. don’t have a “set it and forget it mentality”)

Create a long-term roadmap and define your measurable goals

Have formal project controls in place (project management, project reporting, methodology, QA/testing process, resource utilization/allocation, etc.)

Plan to provide immediate value in the first phase

Have a formal strategy for training and coaching (Lunch ‘n Learns, etc.)

Involving the business and users in the discovery and design process

Have a way for users to provide feedback, and make sure they know their feedback is being heard.


My hope is that this blog has been relevant and helpful.  We’ve been fortunate to have seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst, and at the end of the day, while technology is the “great enabler” behind most projects today, technology should rarely be the driver for doing the project.  Business needs and organizational challenges drive the technology, and not the other way around.

For more information on C5 Insight or this blog entry, please Contact Us.