The success of a project is usually calculated with traditional evaluation parameters that only take into account the fact that the project has respected the budget and the programme. Quite often, however, this is not enough.
Some organizations consider broader parameters than the traditional ones – cost, planning and operation – and determine the success of the project by evaluating key performance indicators, the so-called KPIs.
This approach generates more relevant, fair and balanced project performance evaluations.
Some organizations, however, do not have a consistent way to determine the parameters that should be applied to determine how a project has achieved its objectives and how it has influenced the company in a tangible and non-tangible way.
Why measure the success of a project?
This may seem like a silly question, but what is the main point of measuring the success of the project?
After all, once a project is finished, there isn’t much more you can do about it, whether it is a success or a failure, right?
This has been the primary philosophy for a long time, but with the development of the concept of learning and best practice, the value of recording information about an organization’s past to guide its future strategy has become more prevalent.
Nowadays, the value of continuous improvement based on past data is recognized and it is based on this that companies can understand what went wrong during a given project so that they don’t fall into the same mistakes during subsequent projects.
By integrating new knowledge, particularly about successes and failures, into new processes, fewer mistakes are made and higher performance can be achieved.
That’s why measuring project success has become critical for every project manager.
What is so difficult about the measurement of a project’s success?
It seems logical that by measuring the success of a project, it will be possible to collect data on what went particularly well or badly and that you will be able to pinpoint those success factors to be applied to future projects.
What happens if the project is delivered on time and on budget but two months later the client does not benefit from the result? Or are you absolutely not satisfied?
On the contrary, some clients may be completely satisfied with the result of a project that has been almost a disaster in terms of management with, for example, unforeseen delays, excessive resources, financial losses for the company, etc.
For years project management has been trying to come up with a more precise idea of what is meant by “project success” and for years we have been trying to identify what is needed to ensure the success of the project.
A lot of research has been conducted on this subject and many studies have been published.
However, the results were not so homogeneous: despite thousands and thousands of texts written about project management, despite decades of individual and collective experience and despite a considerable increase in the amount of project-based work, the data have led to highlight that the success of a project is also partly very subjective and varies according to situations, organizations, sectors and stakeholders.
Indeed, everyone could have a different perception of the project and its result.
Criteria for successful project management
In these criteria we will find all those concerning the project itself and its implementation.
These in particular help to measure the internal efficiency of the organization to implement projects and here we find the “classic” elements of project management:
- The project is completed within schedule
- The project is completed within budget
- The project meets its quality objectives
Other project management criteria can be added such as:
- The project includes all the points covered by the scope
- The project meets commercial objectives in terms of revenue and profits
And again in this category it is possible to include criteria related to different stakeholders:
- Project team satisfaction
- End-user satisfaction
- Supplier satisfaction
The subjectivity of success is therefore minimized through the use of predefined success criteria.
The “define, align and approve” paradigm
To ensure that the established success criteria are satisfactorily realistic, the development of the criteria must follow the “define, align and approve” paradigm.
In short, the success criteria must be properly set out in measurable terms, must be aligned with the needs and constraints of the project, and must be approved by all parties involved in the decision-making process.
Let’s see each point further in detail:
1. Success criteria must be explicitly set out
Success criteria must be stated in specific terms related to the execution of the project management process, the project activities and their results. For example: it is a success if the project is completed by the end of Q4.
2. Success criteria must be ‘aligned’ adequately.
Success criteria must be aligned adequately with the project vision, scope and effort, considering the overall purpose, benefits to be achieved, organizational capacity, priorities, risks and operational constraints. For example: it is a success if the project leads to a 5% reduction in reports of problems related to remote access to the system.
3. Success criteria must be duly approved
Success criteria must be developed and defined using a structured and collaborative process, whereby all parties involved in the decision-making process have the opportunity to provide input, challenge hypotheses, negotiate and finally provide acceptance and approval.
Whatever the project in question, when it is possible to measure success through optimal evaluation parameters, critical information will be obtained which, perhaps, will not lead to the improvement of the project itself, but will help to create a database of knowledge for the development of future successful programmes and projects.