An absolute intolerance of failure

Association for Project Management chairman Mike Nichols explains the idea behind the association’s challenging and inspirational vision


Association for Project Management (APM) celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012, the year many argue that project management came of age.

Amid the plethora of project success, APM launched its vision of a world in which all projects succeed. It is a bold vision, but one that is achievable, as demonstrated by the projects that came to fruition in 2012, such as the London Olympic Games, the Shard and the completion of the digital switchover.

We needed a challenging and inspirational vision that would stretch and excite us. We wanted to change the perception that has dogged project management for many years that projects do not succeed, which is evidently wrong.

It is very frustrating when people suggest projects are more than likely to fail. By starting a project with that mentality you are inviting failure; you have to plan for and ensure success.

When you look at projects that don’t succeed, it is normally for a small number of the same reasons. Once you realise that, you can take action to avoid or minimise the impact of those causes, thus greatly enhancing the likelihood of success.

The new expectation will be that all projects succeed

The idea of APM’s vision is clear, but it is important to note that this is not a short-term objective: it is a rallying cry to everyone involved in projects. After all, every project should succeed and, if they are approached in the right way, they are highly likely to.

The message is simple: by doing the right things, you can make a huge difference to your project’s outcome. It is not rocket science; it is about having an absolute determination to succeed and an intolerance of failure. If you have that, then the likelihood is that projects will be successful.

A similar approach in other areas, notably a zero tolerance of defects in car manufacturing and of accidents in construction, has resulted in dramatic improvements in reliability and safety.

At APM, we are of course supporting the vision by providing guidelines to define and achieve “success”, by developing professionalism and by encouraging ever-increasing levels of knowledge and professional competence.

In short, we will not stop until we completely eradicate the presumption that projects fail.

With APM at the heart, we have started a movement of professionals and organisations that are intolerant of project failure. The new expectation will be that all projects succeed.

To achieve this exciting vision, APM needs the support of everyone involved in the creation and delivery of projects: from sponsors and project professionals, right through to end-users, from government departments to other professional bodies, and across all sectors.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what your role is. If you are involved in projects, you too can help change the world. Preventable failure is just that, so join us and help us move towards a world in which all projects succeed.