Ha. I wish it were as easy a progression as that, although in a nutshell that pretty much describes what I've found to be true. Sometimes there are pieces that never fit. Those pieces might not fit because they are misunderstood, or they may not fit because the rest of the puzzle is screwed up somehow. Luck might be the only thing that allows you to differentiate; although you'd hope that a bit of education and networking could save you. Sometimes there are difficult lessons to learn along the way - perhaps related to technical aspects of the project, or perhaps related to soft skills - like communication and management. I'd hope that with every project there is a lesson learned...if not, I'd take that to be a sign it's time to move on to something else.
In the end, I think progress is driven by asking the right questions, recognizing what is understood and what is uncertain. Being able to throw stones at an idea to see how well it stands up to criticism and learning how to defend your ideas are essential skills if you are looking for success; skills that require professionalism, tact, and sometimes a pretty thick skin.
That's what I've witnessed so far, anyway. I wonder how the pieces of my project will come together?