Vision to Value: Executing Initiatives Successfully


By Todd C. Williams, PMP

Washington, USA



Value: The lynch-pin of successful businesses. What drives business must drive our initiatives and projects. Although scope, schedule, and budget are key factors in project success, both initiatives and their constituent projects must deliver value. Meeting “the big three” is no guarantee of a positive outcome. Instead consistently track value and make adjustments to the triple constraints to attain sufficient value. Arguably value is the project manager’s most critical deliverable in the project. It requires significant insight into the business objectives, the project’s customer, and a thorough understanding of the needs over the wants. This is key to executing initiatives successfully. Project managers must lead (leading subordinates, leaders, and customers), assign priorities based on a global view, and know when to say no.

Vision to Value

Initiative success rates are dismally low. Failures in constituent projects, lack of adoption, trouble in change management name just a few of the reasons. Estimates for success rates range from only 25% to 40%i, ii, iii of all projects meet the end users expectations. To understand this problem one has to understand what makes an initiative successful. Experience indicates that most companies believe that it is completing its component projects within the scope, schedule, and budget defined at the onset of the project. I disagree. It requires planning, communication, adaptability, and change management.

A Tale of Failure

Let’s explore a project that most of us are aware of and see if this definition applies. The project is the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope—the history being in the public domain. The concept of a space telescope was conceived in in 1923 by the scientist Hermann Oberth; however, it took until the 1970s for technology to catch up and allow it to be considered feasible. In 1977 the project was funded with $200,000,000 and a projected launch date in 1983. The spacecraft, however, did not enter final assembly until 1985. Launch finally occurred in 1990 with delays coming from scope changesiv and the Shuttle Challenger tragedy. Heralded as a huge achievement everyone waited for telescope stabilization and the transmission of first spectacular images. Unfortunately, the images were anything but spectacular. NASA was faced with an orbiting telescope originally priced at $400MM and had ballooned to $2.5 Billion, was seven years late, with a “spherical aberration” in a mal-manufactured mirror. In other words, the mirror was ground incorrectly and could not focus on distant images. To any astronomer a poorly manufactured mirror is the cardinal sin. NASA had missed the basics in Astronomy 101. The mirror is the primary component of any telescope and to have it built wrong was simply inconceivable.

Scientists eventually developed a solution and in 1993 a shuttle visit delivered and installed a high-tech set of contact lenses that allowed the Hubble Space Telescope to deliver the stunning images that most of us have become so familiar with.

But the story does not end there. In 2003, shuttle tragedy struck again and the loss of the Columbia forced NASA to restrict all flights to orbits that could take safe harbor in the International Space Station. The orbit of the Hubble, however, is not coincident with the space station and the final Hubble servicing mission was canceled. The reaction was immediate and resounding. Hundreds of millions of people complained forcing Congress and NASA to develop an alternate solution over deorbiting the telescope. In 2009, the final servicing mission was flown on Shuttle Atlantis, with the Shuttle Endeavor in full ready to be launched if troubles on Atlantis arosev.

The question to the readers who believe in the posited definition of success is, “How can a project that was over 6 times its original cost, was ten years late (doubling the timeline), and did not function as designed, get to be so successful as to merit the risk to human life to prolong the service of its product?”

It had missed the commonly used measures of success—scope, schedule, and budget—and was a successful for one reason only. To the millions of laypeople of the United States (who could lobby Congress) and hundreds of millions of laypeople around the world the Hubble Space Telescope had value—value that was measured in pictures and discoveries that fueled imagination, hope, and dreams. It is the intangible attribute of value that makes a project successful.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 9th annual University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, Texas, USA in August 2015. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.



About the Author

pmwj40-Nov2015-Williams-PHOTOC. Williams

Washington, USA




A strong comprehensive strategic foundation coupled with operational excellence allows companies to build the capabilities to thrive. This is Todd Williams’ approach to helping companies succeed. Utilizing over twenty-five years of experience he helps companies turn their vision into value by executing initiatives successfully.

Following his mantra, “Strategy, People, Process, and then Technology,” he specializes in rescuing projects and helping organizations build the infrastructure to prevent future failures.

His international experience, working with executives and multicultural teams has earned him a reputation as someone that can come into any situation and address issues. Captured in his book Rescue the Problem Project, he defines a project audit and recovery process for rescuing red projects that focuses on the role of people in projects, root cause correction, and failure prevention.

He also writes for The CEO Magazine, American Management Association Playbook blog, his own Back From Red blog, and numerous other outlets. Periodicals, including Fortune/CNN Money, CIO Update, ZDNet, Enterprising CIO, and IT Business Edge routinely, ask for his opinion on critical issues facing today’s business leaders.

He is also an internationally acclaimed speaker doing over 30 presentations and workshops a year throughout the United States, Canada, and European Union.

Todd can be contacted at [email protected]