How to measure project success?

We had originally published this post more than a year ago on our old blog platform. We re-publish an updated version here through a short series of articles. We will also provide links to a chapter from an upcoming book by the author and a presentation on the subject. The links will be with the last article in the series.

Subjective Project Success Assessment

Success and failure are often highly subjective terms, especially for projects and in project management. The question of success is dependent on the perspective of the stakeholders. It is common that one stakeholder might perceive a project a success while another consider it a failure. Then how can we remove some, or most, of the subjectivity from deciding if a project is successful or not?

In this series,  we will offer our professional opinion and open a debate on the subject.

Whose Perspective

Before we can even attempt to answer such a challenging question, we need to address the first point, which is stakeholders – who are the stakeholders? From whose perspective are we assessing success?

If one considers individuals, are we looking at this question from a team member perspective, a project manager, a sponsor, or someone else?

If one considers the organization, then is this question of success from a service provider – a seller of service or product perspective; or is it from the buyer perspective, the client or project owner?

One more perspective, if from the client / project owner perspective, then what type of “work” is the owner involved in? Is the owner a commercial entity – a business (for-profit), or not-for-profit organization, or is it a governmental organization?

Without deciding on whose perspective, we cannot answer this question properly.

In this series of articles, we take the organizational perspective and not an individual perspective.

We leave the question of ‘seller’ or ‘buyer’ and type of organization until later in these posts.

Managing Project SuccessProject Success: Illusions or Real

How can we move away from the illusion of success to real project success?

First, let us define what we mean by the illusion of project success. If, the organization does not define  criteria for measuring success when it launches the project then how do we measure success at the end? It is likely that, in this situation, the fall back position would be project completion, but is this enough? If completion is not perfect – then we enter into the subjectivity of people.

Once, our marketing manager organized a reception for the company. On the morning following the reception, the manager was congratulating herself on the wonderful job she did and how successful the event was. I had to hold my temper, and restrain from firing her on the spot, since in my views, the event was not a failure – it was a disaster. Without getting into the reasons behind the differences of opinions, the fact remains, we had different views. Our failure was we did not have criteria for deciding what success and failure were.

We need to avoid the illusions of project success, and the only way we can do this is through defining criteria, which we must establish early on in the project life.

Criteria for Measuring Project Success

Great, what would be proper criteria for measuring project success?

The common view is that many practitioners suggest two dimensions of success, product success and project management success. Meaning, did we deliver a product per the specifications and requirements, and did we deliver on time and budget?

We have different views.

We agree that these two dimensions, from the perspective of a service provider, are OK. A service provider has to deliver to a contract, which include specifications along with cost and time constraints.

However, when we consider the perspective of the organization developing the project, the owner, these two dimensions are important but not enough.

We suggest four dimensions, which we will discuss in the upcoming post.