I was talking to the V.P. of IT projects for a multi-billion dollar financial services firm. We were talking about strategic project failure figures. We’d both seen studies showing failure rates pretty consistently at over 50%.

He told me that their firm hadn’t had a significant failure in over five years. I was astounded and impressed. After a failure that he placed at close to a $100M write-off, their firm had put in place the most strict procedures and approval gates that I’d ever seen. I suggested that it would be great to create a short case study on how they had managed to achieve such a success rate. To maximize the impact of the case I wanted to include a perspective from their business partners. I asked him whether his business partners would also claim that there had been no significant failures in the past five years. His answer was, “I have no idea”.

Scary, and no he wasn’t pulling my leg. It is still possible to find an organization that is so insular, so full of functional silos that someone at a V.P. level can declare success within their area without any consideration to the over-all success of execution. This organization’s performance measures and complex matrixes reinforce individuals to define success and failure to within only the scope that they control.

This type of corporate culture, this type of organizational thinking is one of the core reasons for execution failure. I first ran into the performance claim of “It’s ok leaving here”, when I was a young customer service representative working in Central America helping get airline communications networks online. The technician at Pan American or KLM or Eastern Airlines headquarters would tell me the data signal was “Ok leaving here” . That was his way of saying “ I have no more responsibility for successful connection between me and where you are”. In other words, his definition of success was strictly defined by what he could control.

This is the first posting for much more on the subject of how success is defined. It will also be a focus around how we are fundamentally organized and measured. We need to work, regardless of the organization structure, to achieve success in execution. I’ll also be soliciting input and links to other studies or examples of failure statistics, how success and failure are measured.

You’ll be seeing more of my recommended solutions for that challenge. Please stay and comment, if this is of particular interest to you.