Evolution of ‘project success criteria’

During one of my training programs, a project manager said ‘ I am not getting acceptance for my project. What should I do get the acceptance?’. That was a difficult question to answer, considering the fact that I did not know much about his project. Still I wanted to give it a try, and I asked more questions about the probable causes that are acting in favor of project acceptance and the ones acting against project acceptance, just to understand the context better, before trying to help him out, if possible.

The key factors favoring his project’s acceptance

  • The project leadership team, especially the CEO is committed to the project
  • The product quality is excellent
  • Capability of the team is good

The key factors opposing his project’s acceptance

  • Organizational politics
  • Fear of loss of job
  • Trade union involvement …

Luckily I asked him about the ‘acceptance criteria’ of the project, which he, his team and all the key stakeholders were trying to achieve, and unfortunately it was not available. Further research reveals that, this is a major problem in many projects. The perception of success varies from project to project, and from stakeholder to stakeholder. There is no agreed upon success criteria for most of the projects, and it is a global project management problem or opportunity!.

  • Who has the right to declare success?
  • What are the criteria that will be used to determine success or failure?

Answers to these questions are critical to every project’s success, irrespective of the contract types used.

The definition of ‘project’s success’ is continuously evolving; 

1960 – Technical terms (If the product of the project is working fine, then the project is successful)

1970 – Time, Cost, Quality (Triple constraints)

1980 – Accepted by the customer

1990 – Still more criteria

(Harold Kerzner 2000)

Here is the Project Management Institute’s view of project success as per the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Version6), Released in the year 2018 ;

“Traditionally, the project management metrics of time, cost, scope, and quality have been the most important factors in defining the success of a project. More recently, practitioners and scholars have determined that project success should also be measured with consideration toward achievement of the project objectives.”  Ref  Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Version 6 

That is a radical shift in the definition of the success criteria of projects. Till recently, the industry believed that a project is successful if it is completed within the agreed upon time, cost and met it’s scope with required quality. As per this definition, the project’s management need not really worry about meeting the end goals of the project.

Kochi metro rail  is a project which got over on time, within the acceptable budget and met the scope with the required quality. Till last year, I believed that it’s project management is extremely successful. Did it meet it’s objectives?. I am doubtful. Since I do not know the pay back period, I am not sure. Did it ease the traffic congestion, “no”, it did not. From that perspective I may have to change my view from ‘success’ to ‘failure’ for this project. And the project manager is accountable.

As we all know, every project delivers unique product or services as it’s output (PMBOK). Based on this, the project success criteria  can be further divided into;

  • Project management success  – Time, Cost, Scope, Quality
  • Product’s success (Effect of the project’s final product)  (Baccarini 1999)

Project Success

Going by the latest view of PMBOK, project is successful if it is completed within the agreed upon time, cost, met it’s scope with required quality  and the benefits forecast used for justifying the project’s initiation is accomplished. The first part (project management success) is accomplished through professional project and program management, where as the product’s success is ensured through project portfolio management and project management combined.

Best practices :

  • Opportunity planning
  • Success criteria document
  • Monitoring stakeholder engagement

In my next blog post, I will elaborate the steps to develop, deploy and maintain the ‘success criteria document’ 

Courtesy : Wrench Solutions 




Published by Project Management Research Institute

Project Management Research Institute, a not for profit organization involved in collaborative research, development and deployment of customer centric project management solutions.

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