The 4 R's

Successful projects and the Four R’s

Successful projects and the Four R’s

Achieving successful projects is all about getting the basics right – the Four R’s. Just as Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic were the 3 R’s of basic schooling, according to politicians and writers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Schooling was (apparently, I wasn’t there) all about getting children to have the basic skills to take the increasingly skilled manufacturing jobs that were arriving through the industrial revolution.

Over the last 20 or 30 years there has been an evolution (rather than revolution) in how we project people look at the way we deliver projects – we now talk about the delivery of organisational change mostly, although there are still some areas where ‘doing projects’ is not so people-focussed.

Surveys for so many years have asked the questions “Why projects fail?” or “What makes a successful project?”. There is a general recognition by the respondents to these surveys that the key thing that needs to be perfect for success is the people stuff – it is people that stop change. Things don’t stop change – a machine doesn’t have an ego or personality, it doesn’t have to worry about paying the mortgage or taking little Jimmy to football training. People stop change.

Here’s the problem – we all now realise that “there’s nothing harder than the soft stuff” – the soft skills that we need to learn to deal with the people aspects of change.  Consequently, making sure that there is enduring change and delivery of benefits, are the hardest to crack. There are loads of resources and skills available to help develop Change Makers, but there is always a challenge of finding a single source for this kind of information, and coaching and mentoring tend to be more successful than simply reading a manual. It is hard to write down how to manage change (Prince2 and Managing Successful Programmes and suchlike are largely silent on this subject), and because people are at the root of the challenge it is impossible to prescribe a “one size fits all” process. We tend to rely on models to set the scope of organisational change management because what we need to do practically in various situations differs markedly, and then apply those models through our experience and a set of proven tools tweaked to the particular situation.

So I come to my Four R’s. They are of course debatable, but I want to try to encapsulate what types of activities support successful delivery of projects and aligned change. It may not be surprising given the foregoing that they cover the whole gamut of things that need to happen to deliver success. There is a huge amount of detail behind the following summaries!

The Four R’s

  1. Rigour and ritual – by this I mean, always do what you say you will do and make sure the basics are brilliant.

People like consistency. As a Change Maker it is critical in my view that you set up the structures, control and governance that you need to manage a project or programme – don’t just jump in at the middle – make sure that you have the big three sorted – planning, control and governance. As far as ritual goes, if you set up a system whereby you issue a ‘highlight’ report showing progress each Friday, stick to it. Miss a week, and people will switch off, they’ll think you are hiding something, or that you have lost motivation. If you decide to review your risk log every Tuesday – just do it. If you don’t you’ll miss a week, or two, or…and your project will start to spiral out of control.

  1. Relationships – people stop change, people deliver change, and people lead change.

Getting the people aspects of the project right will pay dividends. As a Change Maker we spend a large proportion of our time working with a team, building the team and the bonds and practices that help to make it high-performing. We also spend a lot of time analysing the stakeholders of the change, including the leaders, teams, individuals, unions etc., and making sure that we know what they think and feel, what will make the change as good as it can be for them, how the change might help them in their working lives and outside. Keep the stakeholders engaged with the change, keep them involved, and communicate. Be honest and build trust.

  1. Risk management – managing risk and the risk environment

Managing the risk environment is critical to successful delivery – if we can ensure that anything that might go wrong doesn’t (or at least if it does we are in control) then we have more chance of successful delivery of project outcomes. Under risk management I include all of the activities to identify and log risks, to routinely manage them, to make them apparent to stakeholders and the project team. Think widely too – risks are there lurking under every stone – hoping something doesn’t happen when you turn over the stone probably isn’t sufficient. There are several mnemonics that we use to help us identify risks – I like PESTLE (Political, Economic, Socio-cultural, Technological, Legal and Environmental), you can also add an ‘I’ for International. Whichever way, it is key to work out what the risks are, determine whether they are real, what is their scale, proximity, what their impact might be and what we need to do to prevent them crystallising or what we should do when they do happen. Review them regularly, and don’t be afraid of owning up when something is going wrong – use the mitigation plans to maintain control.

  1. Responsibilities – we are all in this together. Aren’t we?

Someone once said to me ‘good fences make good neighbours’ when they were trying to work out which parts of a huge programme they were responsible for. Being really clear on who needs to do what is critical of course, but the truth is that in modern projects I preach a mantra around team-based project management – the team is jointly and severally responsible and we work together to ensure a successful project outcome. This doesn’t mean that an individual or team is not responsible for completion of a particular activity or deliverable, it is more about the way we work together in partnership to ensure success (this applies equally to vendors and suppliers) – it is not sufficient to fly-tip a problem into someone else’s garden any more!


At The Change Maker Group we have our DELTA model to support us in driving the people aspects of projects – it fits nicely with any project or programme methodology, but helps concentrate the mind of the people aspects of change. Treating the 4 R’s as an aide memoire will support Change Makers in delivering successful projects and consequently ensuring enduring change and delivery of benefits.


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