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What Is Project Success?

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 16th May 2012

There are so many times when I have seen written or heard talk of “project success” – but “project success” cannot always be easily defined. Yes, we could trot out the usual favourites that project success means completing the project on time, on budget and on scope, but often the genuine success of highly complex projects is not always as clear cut as that.
To really achieve business value from a completed project the success criteria should not only be well-defined but also measured. The definition of success in itself is not always an easy one to make without resorting to trite statements such as ” We want the new software to make the business task of xxx (insert your own words here) more efficient” but “efficient” is not then defined, or measured.
Research from PM Perspectives suggests that formally defining success leads to projects with a better outcome and clear benefits. But just how do you define success?
The Definition of Project Success
Organisations with well-established processes for defining success use a number of different categories of success; the main ones being:

  • Business Success
  • Project Management Success
  • Technical Success

These standard categories do include the typical “on time”, “on scope” and “on budget” factors but go beyond these to include business benefits, meeting business objectives, stakeholder satisfaction, project team satisfaction and a range of other criteria depending on the type of project. So clearly project success is not just about delivering a product or service that meets the initial requirements.
Some companies even recognise a distinction between project management success and business success but how can these differing success criteria be measured?
The Measurement of Project Success
Measuring the business benefits achieved by delivery of a project is typically performed during the post-implementation review but this is often a rushed process (if it happens at all) and does not allow for tracking benefits over a long period. It is often a low priority due to limited resources, team members moving on to new projects and little management support.
And yet measuring project success is essential knowledge that leads to improvements in delivering projects and in the value realised by those projects, as well as in project management practices across an organisation.
Of course project success may be different for different types of projects and for different types of organisations but it is clear that success is more easily attained if we define it and measure it because we can then adjust the project as necessary to achieve success.
We should recognise that the following factors contribute to success:

  • Document the success criteria at the beginning of the project.
  • Ensure all involved parties agree on the success criteria
  • Regularly measure progress and performance against the success criteria
  • Modify the project to achieve the success criteria.
  1. John says:

    Project completion depends upon 3 factors Time, Cost and Scope.

  2. Sumit Srivastava says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I was going through your view on project success and it seems to be very relevant especially in light of what I have been thinking through about this topic over last few days. I am new to project management and has limited knowledge (which I am trying to build 🙂 ) but can you let me know your view on “Can success and failure be looked as binaries outcomes of any project” or there is space for various other thing in between like 80% success or one part of project is success. I believe outcome of a project is more dynamic that just a binary outcome, So is there any scope or definition of project within PMI which allows it to be dined as limited success , perceived success, absolute success etc ? or is it too philosophical to use these terms and has no relevance in practical world.

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