A solution to the dilemma of project success: Programs and benefits realization

by Mustafa Hafızoglu

Find out more about Programs and benefits realization and improving project success. The concept of success in project management has focused on completing the project on time, within budget, and at specifications, also called “triple constraint.” However, the triple constraint does not work in the modern business world anymore. Many scholars have worked on defining the success criteria for projects other than the triple constraints. The studies revealed that new criteria should include a time dimension that will cover the future after the completion of the project, although this seems contradictory to the definition of the project, namely temporary.

Last week on November 15,  2019, I gave a presentation at the largest project management summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. At the beginning of my presentation, I gave real examples of two projects. One of the projects was completed on time, within budget and scope, but the product was not used. I asked the attendees whether this project was successful or not, and half of the attendees found the project successful. The second project was very late and over budget, but the product of the project was very successful, bringing unexpected wealth to the organization. Half of the attendees found this project unsuccessful.

In 1997, Dr. Aeron Shenhar put forth an alternative assessment of project success, suggesting that “project success is meaningless unless it also factors in the promise of potential future possibilities a project can generate.” Hence we have the dilemma of the temporary nature of a project and the success criteria of a project after its completion. The solution to this dilemma will also assist in closing the gap between the strategy and the execution since achieving the triple constraint would not necessarily guarantee of achieving the strategic objectives.

Programs are started in order to deliver benefits, and they do not necessarily have to have an ending point, unlike the projects. Hence linking each project to a program and defining new success criteria for the expected benefits even after the completion of the projects can be realized within a program. Although the benefits may seem to be realized after the completion of the project, the creation and implementation of them occur during the project. Hence a lack of focus on defining and assessing, and monitoring them may lead to unrealized benefits. This is why the benefits should be included in the success criteria of a project, although they may be realized after the completion of the project. 

Programs and benefits realization


When it comes to programs and benefits realization, Benefits Realization Management (BRM) is an emerging area that covers the whole benefits realization life cycle both for projects and programs. PMI’s recent Practice Guide on BRM shows how to establish a framework for projects and programs in order to realize benefits. BRM’s emergence will close the gap between strategic management and project management as BCG (Boston Consulting Group)’s survey supports this by mentioning that BRM is a powerful approach to help close that gap by aligning projects to the company’s overarching strategy (PMI, 2016. Thought Leadership Series).

In summary, project success criteria should be broadened to cover benefits which will contribute to the strategic objectives of the company and the programs are great ways to provide traceability, and achievement of these benefits even after the completion of the projects. Programs and benefits realization can be managed through a benefits realization management framework.


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