Celebrating Project Success: 5 Things You Can Do

February 21, 2018 by Christian Knutson, P.E., PMPChristian Knutson, P.E., PMP



One of the by-products of being an engineer, a project manager, and having served over two decades in the military is that I tend to focus on what’s going wrong, or could go wrong, on a project instead of acknowledging project success.

While this is a great mind-set for solving problems and performing risk management, in the realm of managing people it falls short. Really, who wants a manager who’s always focusing on what one is doing wrong, or might do wrong?

That doesn’t sound like the type of manager I want to work for.  It also doesn’t sound like the type of manager that I want to be.

The skills of problem recognition and solving seem to come easy to engineers and project managers, a by-product of training and personality. What project team members want is direction, adequate resources, and a manager who’s willing to celebrate project success no matter how small. This takes a little bit of committed focus, preparation and training to develop the skills for acknowledging, and celebrating, when things go right.

We all know that projects are discrete events with an established start and finish. The natural tendency is to focus only on kickoffs and completions. In my industry, the architectural/engineering/construction industry, we hold a ground-breaking ceremony to celebrate a project start and a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of a new building.

But what if the project you’re working on has a long execution period? It’s not unusual for a construction project to take two or more years to complete. Are there not points for celebration that fall in between breaking ground and cutting ribbon?  The answer is a definite yes. There are a lot of points for celebrating project success, as well as individual success.

There are numerous individual, team, and project activities that present opportunities to celebrate. Your job as a successful project manager is to be prepared to capitalize on these opportunities to create both culture and camaraderie on the project team.

[Related: Ask a PM: How Do I Raise My Team’s Morale?]

While the Project Management Office may not have recognition and celebration on the priority list, you need to put it there. Celebrations and recognitions don’t need to be elaborate, they just need to occur. Here are five actions you can take to celebrate your project success and your project team.

Breaking out the gold shovels at the start of a project and the gold scissors at the end of a project signify two key milestones. However, there are going to be other key milestones on your projects and these present opportunities for celebration.

On a program I worked on, one key milestone was the award of the actual design and construction contract itself. The team worked very hard and there was a lot of high drama to even get to that point. This served as a prime point for celebrating project success, the team was able to make the contract award by the target date.

On your projects, identify key milestones and choose those that are make-or-break when it comes to project success. These will be prime opportunities for you to celebrate when the team hits the milestone successfully.

Project team members send the vast majority, maybe all, of their correspondence via email. While email can remain forever in the digital realm, it will never replace receipt of a hard copy letter of thanks. I used letters of appreciation throughout my career to recognize someone in word and ink for a job well done.

The letter doesn’t need to be a two-page treatise, just a few words recognizing a specific act or level of performance that is contributing to project success. Not certain where to begin? Do some research on the web for letters of appreciation and begin developing your own templates.

[Related: How to Measure the Success (or Failure) of a Project]

I’ve developed several over the years so they’re ready to go, when needed. One note: while the letters are a simple and easy way to recognize someone’s contribution to project success, don’t over use them. Plan to send them only for successful achievement of prominent milestones, or actions, on the project.

Whereas letters of appreciation are to be used as recognition of a significant act between you and the recipient, certificates of appreciation are a great way to share individual recognition with the entire team. You might consider giving a project team member a certificate of appreciation to celebrate her passing the Project Management Professional certification exam, or achieving a significant milestone on her portion of a project.

Instead of keeping the recognition between the two of you, this is an opportunity to recogn...

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