What is a successful project?

The question me and the rest of the trainees have asked from ourselves, from each other, and from more experienced colleagues.

Just recently we all started out our fourth and second last project of the trainee year. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all the Management Trainees when I say that you see a steep learning curve after each project and learn tremendously about yourself as an employee, how to manage a project, and of course, how to do this successfully. The project-based trainee year is one of the best places to get a crash course in managing successful projects.

Finding value from defeat

What is a successful project then? We were faced with this question during our two-day training at the Visma office in Stockholm where we had gathered to discuss project management, among other things. Getting back to the basics, everyone agreed that a successful project should have a beginning, a middle, and a finish. It should have a purpose and a goal, as well as specific resources. It should have a time plan and also be monitored somehow. As a trainee, you are pretty much set when starting a new project as the majority of the things in this list have already been defined. For us, I thought, the focus is on delivering valuable output, which in my eyes was the measurement of the successfulness of a project.

During my previous project, I was forced to change my view on what valuable output is. I was part of a team developing a chatbot for one of the companies in Visma and had a good feeling about the project. We had a clear plan, an ambitious but a doable timeline, and a great group of people who were excited to work with the bot. Long story short, our chosen chatbot proved to cause more problems than it solved and eventually, despite many, many efforts and attempts, the bot was buried alive before we went live. At the end of the project period, I was feeling frustrated that all the work we had done was as good as nothing.

‘As good as nothing’ turned out to not be completely true: based on our team’s experience, I was able to create a roadmap for building chatbots and share knowledge about pitfalls and possible risks so that others could avoid the same mistakes that we did. The management team of the company I worked at thought the instructions I had created would be beneficial for other companies as well, and I got the opportunity to present the learnings from the failed project to Visma’s Enterprise division management. Sharing this experience and seeing it as a victory instead of a failure eventually turned this project into a successful one.

A successful trainee project

Perhaps the definition of a successful project will eventually vary based on the project topic, context, and your level of experience of the matter. However, as a trainee, the measure of success should be more two-fold. From a business perspective, a successful project should have a positive impact or generate meaningful output for the business, keeping in mind that the project experience and outcome might be a success in disguise. From a trainee perspective, however, a successful project is more about learning how to manage projects, learning about the topic at hand, and learning to know yourself better.

Us MT’s still have a few months left in this unique role. Getting everything out that I possibly can from this experience has been its own challenging, yet successful, project so far. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the program and seeing how steep my own learning curve can actually get.

Julia is a Management Trainee at Visma. Graduated with a Master's degree from Aalto University School of Business in Helsinki, she majored in Management and International Business and minored in Computer Science. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management.
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