Historically speaking, project managers have always seen the measure of a project’s success related to what you might have come to know as the “iron triangle” or quadruple constraints. A perspective of success on how well your project did by how you delivered on scope, within budget or timeline boundaries, and within the proper level of quality. In the last two to three editions of the PMBOK Guide, PMI has refrained from using those terms in favor of proposing that we needed to balance project objectives with the constraints of that project in order to proclaim success and gain stakeholder satisfaction. What does that mean for us and our ability to set an appropriate measure of project success?
Remember the last time you closed a project and generated your closure report? What did success look like? For that matter, look at a recent project charter and describe how you defined your project on the success scale. Chances are it had to do with being on time, on budget, and providing some level of stakeholder satisfaction.
What if your project does not meet one or several of those markers? Then what? Is a project considered a failure if it doesn’t fit within that mold?
Well, that is probably not the case or a reflection of your day-to-day reality. In the past, I have had some projects that did not meet the scope, time, or budget levels, but that they were still considered successful. To put it lightly: We had pulled through and delivered something against all the odds. There are, in fact, a lot more factors to consider when aligning your projects to a success scale. Let’s discuss four areas to consider the next time you are trying to explain to your sponsor that success is not simply in the eye of the beholder.
Four factors that help measure the success of a project
1. The people factor
This is the first on my list as it is a key and important factor. This factor influences and has an impact on all the others that I am about to mention. Several projects out there end up over their budget, way past their timeline, and yet they are deemed successful if the project manager was able to keep the team together and the stakeholders engaged to the end. A lot of organizations will put aside variances in budget or schedule if the project is achieved keeping all its “people” working towards the same goal. An indication of this is often in the fact that we are bringing about change that is not only needed but accepted into the organization.
We are willing to pay more and take our time for those projects that we thought could not be done or would not be supported. Getting commitment early and often from every stakeholder is a must.
2. The technical factor
My second factor deals with those technically challenging projects. Organizations will often sacrifice portions of scope, quality, time, or cost to achieve an anticipated hard to deliver technical project. Think of the number of projects, you might have been involved in where we put aside some of these constraints for the sake of keeping the data from a legacy system alive or bringing online a new piece of equipment or software that might save us tons in the future. In these, a few more dollars or weeks do not matter as opposed to not having what that solution is bringing to the organization.
3. The first-time factor
We tend to like this next factor. We love an underdog (see next factor), but we love it even more if it is a first for our organization. What if this is the first for our industry? How does it give us an edge? So, this third factor leads us to want to achieve in a way to prove that it can be done in one try. It is with that goal in mind that we often consider success not around time, money, or scope but in the fact that we did it the first time around.
4. The impossible factor
As soon a someone says the words: “This is impossible, we’ve tried before,” we often see it as a challenge to our organizational ability to deliver on key often difficult projects. With that realization, two things generally happen, either we start with failure in mind, or we look closely at our expectations and re-adjust them in order to give us a better chance at success the second time around. That re-adjustment will more than likely involve a closer look at the time, budget, and scope compared to simply getting it done.
This is my fourth factor: believing that it will get better the second time around and that nothing is impossible. Aren’t we all just positive at heart!
Most of you will have had projects where we consider what is beyond the scope, the time, and the cost in order to bring us closer to a larger goal or vision. The next time that you are asked to define what will success look like for a particular project remember to stretch the boundaries outside those that are always prescribed to us as good project managers.
Sylvie Edwards, PMP, MCPM, STDC, CMP, FPMAC has 25 years of project management experience spanning various industries and is the owner of SRE Solutions, catering to clients in need of project management course development, education, project risk management, PMO setup/evaluation or recovery services. She has worked with one of the top five consulting firm, where she led projects in the information technology, banking, government, and securities sectors as well as being a manager in the risk management practice. Sylvie writes about risk management, communication, and PMO.