Business & Leadership Behaviors

Successful or Significant?

When I think of these two terms, I often think of when my daughter was younger. She used to shout out “done now!” when she “finished” her homework – to announce that she then was free to play. While she may have successfully completed a good first pass (in her Dad’s opinion), she frequently missed the mark on the purpose, or significance, of the exercise (which was evident with the look on her face when I asked her if it was right).

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines these two words as:


1:resulting or terminating in success – a successful attempt

2:gaining or having gained success – a successful investor


1:having meaning; especially :suggestive – a significant glance

2a :having or likely to have influence or effect :important – a significant piece of legislation

also :of a noticeably or measurably large amount – a significant number of layoffs – producing significant profits

2b :probably caused by something other than mere chance – statistically significant correlation between vitamin deficiency and disease


My definition is simpler:

Successful – Achievement / Happens to you!

Significant – Purpose / Happens through you!


Our company goal on any project is, of course, a successful conclusion. And I’m happy to say that in nineteen years of business we have only failed once throughout all of our projects. And while that one failure was beyond our control – we did own the project and we weren’t able to bring it to a successful conclusion. But we did learn from it and correct our practices so that it wouldn’t happen again.

When I talk about “success”, I mean on time and on budget against the solution specification. This is actually pretty easily done if you focus your work in your areas of strong expertise and experience – and make sure your client holds up their side of the effort (see earlier reference of failure).

As far as how significant some automation projects are, that can be harder to measure. Sometimes the business case was less defined or the motivation for the project was that there was a perceived need to quickly correct an issue that just arose.

Other times we see automation projects create the “balloon effect”. I’ve seen this when a “Lean Event” in a manufacturing organization is done on an isolated basis. The result of the Event defines inefficiencies in a specific department and automation is brought in to remedy those issues. This is great until you see that the inefficiencies were just pushed to the next area. The “balloon effect’ is that while we squeezed the balloon in that area and made it smaller, the air just moved elsewhere inside the balloon (or organization) and enlarged that area (operation).

The obvious goal with any project is to be both successful (achievement: complete it on time and budget against the specification) and significant (purpose: meet the payback desired). Over the years, HL Group has had some projects that we’re quite proud of – that delivered strong successes and significance for our customers:

  • Twice we have helped large DOD industrial operations win internal awards for improvements
    • Quicker fix for our solders – that impacted lives in theater
    • Strong reduction of labor hours
    • Major reductions in raw material and WIP inventories
  • Large Federal Agency award for improvements
    • Substantial reduction on inventory requirements in service
    • Expand the inventory / asset visibility with tools to enable broader leverage
  • RFID Pilots for civilian and government organizations
    • In both cases the actual “use case” failed, which was the purpose for the Pilot – determine feasibility prior to broad acquisition

The bottom line is that both success and significance are goals with any automation project and both are achievable. As we’ve discussed in previous Posts, investments in defining the goals (operational, financial) and creating a strong plan (tasks/assignments/timelines with managed execution (oversight with real-time adjustments) are key components.  Not only is it great for the organizations served, it has an equal benefit for the satisfaction of the work itself (ours during execution and a sense of accomplishment; yours with the appreciation that you just improved life for your staff & organization).

When you think about Success vs. Significance, what comes to mind for you?