Consider how a "failed" project is characterized: Press reports of conspicuous project failures declare "the project was several years late." Or, "the project overspent by so many millions of dollars."
But what does it mean to say that a project was late? Late with respect to what, some arbitrary date by which all such projects are supposed to be completed?
And what does it mean to say that a project overspent? Overspent with respect to what? Some arbitrary amount that all such projects are supposed to spend?
The fact is that both of these values -- project completion dates and the budget -- are not arbitrary in the least. These values are determined by the same person who is responsible to not exceed them: the project manager.
Let's look at that. The project manager determines the project completion date and the budget. The project manager then manages the project so as to not exceed those values.
Why, then, should a project ever be late or over budget? Think about it. We have it made! We get to say when and how much -- we simply have to meet those commitments. Our destiny is in our own hands. How can we fail?
And yet ... we fail.
I can hear the rebuttal now: "The schedule and budget were imposed by management, or the client or the sponsor." No they were not. You were given "targets." If you accept those "targets" as your budget and schedule commitments, you are setting yourself up for failure.
As the project manager, you are responsible for determining the schedule and the budget. If you cannot bring them both in line with targets, the sooner you say so, the better.
Success also means not failing. Quickly killing a project that will never meet targets is a good way to avoid failure. Alternatively, you can negotiate changes in targets for scope, schedule and budget so that it's possible to succeed.
Regardless of your personal criteria for a successful career, success as a project manager implies success in managing projects -- and that means meeting commitments that you make.
How do you define a successful project management career?