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Making Project Success Criteria, Factors and Benefits as Easy as Cake

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 12th December 2012

Many people in the APMP exams struggle with the concept of project success criteria, factors and benefits. The language is very similar and it can be very confusing. In the video I use the example of a child’s Birthday Cake to illustrate the differences.

What are The Benefits of a Birthday Cake?

If you make a cake for you child’s birthday then the benefits are the things that flow once the cake has been baked. They include things like

  1. Happy children
  2. Good feedback the children to your child which make you feel proud of your efforts
  3. A nice photo in the family album that will last for ever

As with project benefits these can be hard to measure and often depend on thing beyond the control of the parents (or project manager). So in a project environment benefits are those things that come after the project is finished. For faster train this might be reduced journey time, or for a new airport more flights to locations people want to visit or for an IT system reduced cost or organisational efficiency.

What are the Success Criteria for a Birthday Cake?

The success criteria are evaluated at the end of the project, for a birthday cake this is when the happy birthday song is sung and the children eat the cake (assuming they don’t take it home). For the cake to be successful it has to

  1. Be on time, a cake 3 hours after everyone has gone home is just not good enough.
  2. Look good and fit with the theme of the party, be is Harry Potter or Football.
  3. Have the right number of candles which burn brightly.
  4. Taste good (although young children don’t put his very high on the priority scale)

Interesting cost is not really a success criteria for a Birthday Cake. Eggs, flour and sugar are relative cheap items. For a project the success criteria will include opening on time, within cost and quality, but also possibly is the customer happy to use us again.

So What are the Success Factors that Lead to a Successful Birthday Cake?

Well these are the things we put into the cake to make it successful. Typically they would include

  1. The right ingredients, bad eggs never produce a nice cake.
  2. A good recipe for the type of cake we are making
  3. Enough skill to create a cake in line with the party theme
  4. An oven that has a working thermostat. A burned cake will never do.

These are the inputs to the cake, getting them right increases our chances of producing a good cake. We are not guaranteed to get a perfect cake but paying attention to these factors increases the chances of success. Likewise with a project getting a clear brief, having senior management support and the right resources are all factors (ingredients) that improve the chances of making a successful project.

So Why are Success Factors Important

Like making a cake the only way to influence the success of a project is by getting the right factors in place. If we put in the right factors then we significantly increase the chances of delivering a successful project. Day to day may of us spend our time trying to understand and influence the project success factors. Have I got the right resources, is the design right, does the customer know what they want. identifying and influencing these factors are the way in which project can meet there success criteria.

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