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.


11 thoughts on “How to measure project success?

  1. Pingback: Project Success: once again, is the PMBOK® Guide creating more confusion? | Redefining Project Management

  2. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Nader Zoljalali,

    To add a quantum twist to Gary’s assertion of subjectivity of measuring project success or failure, chaos theory holds that in any dynamic system, e.g., a project; small changes in initial conditions yield diverging outcomes increasing the complexity of measurement exponentially. This tendency pushes the boundaries of
    measurement/computation into the realm of soothsaying and fortune telling
    throwing a blanket of subjectivity over what is in real life, an object and displays tangible traits.
    The skill of a project manager in dealing with the issue is demonstrated by how well he/she reduces the thickness of this blanket and shines a light on the object underneath to make it as objectively visible as possible.

  3. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Gary McCalden,

    This was an interesting introduction to the topic, and a bit of a tease at the end. The thinking by Mounir aligns very closely to what I have been sprouting around my organisation lately. Measuring project success is not a simple matter, and it is not a
    binary decision. Even if precise criteria are se at the outset, there are likely to be some of these criteria that are not completely met. Does this mean the project is a failure? Not necessarily, so it does become subjective to a degree. I’m looking forward to reading what the 4 dimensions are.

  4. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Nader Zoljalali,

    Wikipedia says that “a project is defined as a collaborative enterprise, involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim”, hence, its
    progress must be measured against milestones defined in accordance with the
    “particular aim” that is envisaged by the project, not by the stakeholders. This remains the sole responsibility of the project manager while stakeholders remain silent partners throughout the project delivery processes.
    “Success” as distinct from “progress” is generally defined at project definition phase where stakeholders’ interests are reconciled and aligned.
    If all goes according to the plan, “Success” begins to show after handover and throughout the remainder of its life cycle.

  5. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn Leadership in Project Management group by JONAS NDLAZI,

    Measuring Project
    Success for me, can be measured using the baseline plan which focused on the
    Ten Project Management areas where quantities were defined. The will be
    measured against the actual implementation of the baseline plan and the
    differences whether positive or negative. If the planning of the project was realistic in sense that, project/ subject expert’s input was incorporated in the planning/ development of project charter and all other project management knowledge areas

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  8. Pingback: How to measure project success? Example per the four dimensions! | Redefining Project Management

  9. Joe Seago

    This topic can either be beat into the ground with deep thoughts on minute details or, as I see it, be straight forward and to the point.

    From a consultant perspective:
    1. Is the client happy?
    2. Did you make your company money?
    3. Did everyone live? 🙂 Is everyone on the team proud of the outcome?
    4. Will the client use your firm again?

    If #2 is yes, then #4 should be yes.
    If #1 & #2 are yes, then #3 should be yes.
    So strive to make the client happy and to make a profit and all should be swell.

  10. Pingback: How to measure project success? The four dimensions! | Redefining Project Management

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