25 April 2007

Four views on project success

I have skimmed the topic of project success a few times but have never got into the meat of the topic.

Here I am framing some thoughts I have about what constitutes success for project workers like you and me.

I am very interested in comments on this topic so please - have your say.

Project Success
The CHAOS report is quoted often as saying IT projects in particular are unlikely to be satisfactory in the vast majority of cases. Many projects exceed budgets and timeframes and/or fail to deliver on the requirements. Does this mean they have failed?

I have written a series of posts on internal marketing which discusses the importance of marketing to users, stakeholders and the client to help make a project acceptable and indeed perceived as successful. This series mentions a number of success criteria beyon time-cost-quality including user and stakeholder satisfaction.

Product Success
Max Wideman, Project Management guru, has also written an article called Selling into Project Success where he talks about the difference between product success and project success, and how at the end of the day of he product fails, so has the project. As a result of this relationship he suggests you need to factor in the marketing and selling costs of the project.

Project Management Success
Upon further reflection there is the idea that projects can be run without project management. A business can throw people and money at a problem until it is beaten. If a project manager is brought in to the mix the number of people and the amount of money spent will be reduced. That doesn’t mean that the project comes in at the estimated deadline and budget – but it could still be called a success.

So I now have three views of success;
  • Product success,
  • Project success and
  • Project management success.

Each of these three aspects will shape what is perceived as true success by the people that count – the ones with the money and more work for you in the future.

Perceived success
And so a fourth view - and a more pragmatic one: My beliefs about success are centred on the client’s satisfaction after the event. Were the clients left happy? Would they hire you again? Will they refer others to you? I think these are the best indicators of success.

What do you think?


  1. It is a nice way of looking at what success means. Typically, I have always tried to go beyond just the project being termed as a success or a failure. Iridium is a good example of this. People say that it was an unsuccessfull project. I always ask them why they think it was unsuccessfull because I think technologically it was just a brilliant success. So, you've always got to differentiate between different area in which you were able to succeed.

    I also like the idea of 'perceived' success. It's not just what you think but what others think that matter in business. That's something to be very congnizant about.

  2. I tend to agree with Rajeev; sucess and failure are probably too limiting for any reasonably complex project. Craig you touched on that in an earlier post when you pointed out that requirements are dynamic, and a contract will help but doesn't solve this problem. Written objectives are essential in the world of consulting, but won't render success or failure determinations without subjectivity - you can always argue that the written objectives were a failure. I'm sure you've worked in environments where "internal marketing" forces paint a project in a more or less positive light depending on the painter's motives. So at the end of the day, it may be communication and socialization of the progress which determines where you end up on the scale.

    Of course, if your customer says you failed, you did, in his world. Hopefully you don't disappoint large numbers of them.


    Leader 4 Success