Insight from Agora Consultants

Use short term goals to gain long term success


Strategies when dealing with large complex projects

1 September 2015 - 1PM EDT

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Agora Insights - Short Term Goals Long Term Success.pdf


We all know that the longer the project, the more difficult it is to plan. 

In my last blog, “Are your reports hurting project success?” I discussed the Cone of Uncertainty model, which roughly states that unknowns are higher at the start of a project. Although effective reporting can manage the risks of unpredicted issues and changes, it will not eliminate the risks that come with large projects that span over several periods.

This got me thinking... keeping your health in check is an investment people are making more and more of every day. Can we apply these best practices to managing projects? 

Managing project goals using lessons from life 

Fitness can be tricky in the long-term. Your body hits plateaus in how it reacts to your diet and exercise regime. At these plateaus, you need to change your routine to shock the body and encourage your muscles to keep working. 

What if we are to equate these plateaus to “projects”? Let’s compare this to how a fitness program is designed to achieve the longer term goals.

When setting up a fitness program, a personal trainer will assess your objectives and structure a schedule that involves multiple short-term goals (usually 6 weeks) to keep your motivation steady and your eye on the prize. 

Similar to how a fitness program is broken into six- week periods, research supports that it’s best to divide large enterprise projects into specifically focused three-month increments, while managing the overall project similar to a program.

These short- term projects are then easily managed, modified to accommodate environmental changes, or paused all together. The small scope and limited duration enforces tight constraints so you can focus on the critical success factors. 

Furthermore, breaking projects into manageable intervals applies a clear outline of what needs to be achieved for the “mini project”. Its success allows the team, stakeholders, and customers to easily recognize the accomplishments that have been made towards the overall vision.

A proven approach — the bigger the project, the higher the risk of failing.  

Research shows that breaking long-term projects into smaller, short-term projects is effective in achieving success.

A study by McKinsey and Oxford University in 2012 found that half of all large IT projects massively blow their budgets while delivering 56 percent less value than anticipated. Some expend their finances so badly they threaten the very existence of the company. 

Image source: Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value


In the same year, Gartner did a study that found projects with budgets exceeding $1 million have a 50 percent higher failure rate than those with a budgets below $350,000. For those under $350K, almost a quarter of project failures are attributed to runaway budget costs caused by changes.

This study further exhibits how long-term projects requiring big budgets are difficult to accurately control. 

This strategy works because you take CARE

The key to using the concept of short-term goals to achieve long-term success is to treat the larger project like a program. A program is the umbrella structure that encompasses a series of related projects and by providing focus ensures that these initiatives are communicated effectively.

Consistency - an assumption accepted today may change over time. The shorter project is completed quicker and hence more likely to remain constant.
Accuracylonger projects have varying requirements that need to be addressed, while shorter ones have a more defined focus.
Risk - long-term projects may lose the support and enthusiasm of stakeholders and employees if there are no tangible results to celebrate. Shorter projects have the goal in sight.
Effectiveness - it’s easier to plan and estimate for the immediate future than for the distant future.


Applying the concepts

How do we confidently keep an eye on the bigger picture, achieve our goals, and manage sub projects and master projects all at the same time? 

Join us for our next monthly webinar where we show how leading customers apply this approach to ensure long term success and discuss tips to help you increase your success rate.


Size matters - Strategies when dealing with large, complex projects

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Download this insight: Agora Insights - Short Term Goals Long Term Success.pdf

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