How do we assess project success? Before one can answer this question, we need to provide the proper context and the various variables. For example, project success from whose perspective? Do we assess project management success, technical success, or objectives success? What would be the criteria for evaluating success? What would be the criteria for determining success for any of these dimensions? We will do our best to answer these questions and more here. Consequently, how to define success or failure? We need to look at this question from different viewpoints.
The success of what?
When we say a project is successful, or a failure, what does it mean?
Did we deliver a bad or a good product?
Maybe we finished within the cost and schedule parameters.
Perhaps the project met all or some of its objectives.
In other words, the definition of success (and failure) might change from one stakeholder to another depending on what we are assessing and from which perspective. Therefore, SUKAD has developed The Four Dimensions of Project Success™. This is to determine the success of a project using four different dimensions, namely, product’s technical success, project management success, project delivery success, and objectives success (Ajam, 2017).
The Four Dimensions of Project Success
The Four Dimensions of Project Success™ tells us when, along the project life cycle, to assess success, and from which perspective. Therefore, they are from the perspective of the project owner. However, how do we measure success, i.e., quantify it?
Before we can answer the question, we need to show the four dimensions. Therefore, the next four images show the various aspects of success, per the SUKAD Way Project Management Framework. These images are mostly self-explanatory. However, for detailed explanations, please refer to the website or earlier blog articles. These images are from Project Management beyond Waterfall and Agile book.
Assessing project success
Back to the question, how do we measure success; i.e., quantify it?
To assess the success of a project, usually one dimension at a time, we establish the criteria, which would consist of key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics. These are highly dependent on the organizational system, maturity, and culture. Once the organization decides on the dimensions to assess and the criteria, we need to provide a way to judge success.
OK, we are performing an assessment, using the metrics or KPIs, so how do we judge and grant a project the label success or failure?
First, we do not believe in these two extremes. Therefore, we recommend four labels or grades. We realize that some prefer an either/or scenario and it is your choice. In our perspective, an ‘either/or’ view does not provide an adequate assessment that would help us continuously improve effectively and efficiently.
An organization, can adapt our four-grade model but modify the definitions, which is fine. The organization can also use a two, or three-grade model. In the end, and regardless of the model, organizations need to understand what went well or not.
The four-grade model
An assessment of any of the four dimensions will be granted the label Success, graded successfully if we achieve its criteria within the control limit or tolerance allowed.
For example, we could define project management success as achieving cost and schedule targets within the allowed tolerance of 10% (+/-). Therefore, a final project cost could be 109% of the budget, and the project would still be judged a success. Maybe some organizations like to make this allowance 5% (+/-) or even zero, which is a function of the organization.
If a project (overall or a specific dimension) missed one of its success criteria and still results in a useful or profitable product, we may label it as a partially successful project.
If a project missed more than one of its success criteria and still results in a working/productive facility, we may label it as a partially failed project.
Some organizations may choose to combine these two designations and label: Challenged, Troubled, or anything else they prefer.
This would be for projects that are either terminated or missed most (if not all) of its key objectives.
There are numerous posts online that discuss project success without any context. Also, there are various research reports and studies that discuss the vital topic without context. For example, we see studies (posts, reports) discussing project failure in relation to project overrun. This type of message is misleading and even dangerous since they are often about creating a sensation to sell something. What I mean here is this, projects experience overrun, therefore, we judge the project a failure. How is that?
An overrun, if significant, would likely mean the following: from a project management perspective, we might have a failure. However, the organizations could still make a huge profits, more than expected. In other words, project management might have a failure but objectives success is given!
In conclusion, look for the context. If no context, then it is likely the post, articles, studies are limited to project management with no assessment of objectives success.
 We will expand on these dimensions in Chapter 17.
 Once again, Project Management beyond Waterfall and Agile has a dedicated chapter on this topic, which we will summarize later when we propose the tailored approach.
 Remember, project management success is one of the four dimensions and we use it to assess the project management function.
 More on this point in the challenges, later.