Monday, January 22, 2018

When is my project a success?

We talk a lot about projects that were a failure. Hey, most of us have experienced a number of them. But when exactly is a project a failure, and more important, when is a project a success?

A project can only be successful if the success criteria are defined. And this ideally upfront. Unfortunately, I have seen many projects that skipped this part completely. When starting on a project, it's essential to work actively with the organization that owns the project to define success across three levels:

1) Project delivery
2) Product or service
3) Business

Project delivery success

Project delivery success is about defining the criteria by which the process of delivering the project is successful. Essentially this addresses the classic triangle "scope time, budget, and quality?" It is limited to the duration of the project and success can be measured as soon as the project is officially completed (with intermediary measures being taken of course as part of project control processes). Besides the typical project delivery KPIs you can also look at KPIs like overtime, project member satisfaction, stakeholder satisfaction, lessons learned (improved project delivery capabilities), etc.


Product or service success

Product or service success is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered is deemed successful (e.g. system is used by all users in scope, uptime is 99.99%, customer satisfaction has increased by 25%, operational costs have decreased by 15%, etc.). These criteria need to be measured once the product/service is implemented and over a defined period of time. This means it cannot be measured at the end of the project itself.


Business success

Business success is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered brings value to the overall organization, and how it contributes financially and/or strategically to the business. For examples: financial value contribution (increased turnover, profit, etc.), competitive advantage (5% market share won, technology advantage), etc.


Overall project success

These levels combined will determine your overall project success. You can be successful on one level but not others. Personally, I think level 1 matters very little if level 2 and 3 are not met. Unfortunately, many companies emphasize level 1, instead of level 2 and 3 when it comes to project decisions.  


When it comes to accountabilities for success, they are different for each level:

1) Project delivery success: PM (and project team).
2) Product or service success: Product/Service Owner.
3) Business success: Project Sponsor.

The process of "success definition" should also cover how the different criteria will be measured (targets, measurements, time, responsible, etc.). Project success may be identified as all points within a certain range of these defined measurements. Success is not just a single point.

The hard part is identifying the criteria, importance, and boundaries of the different success areas. But only when you have done this you are able to manage and identify your project as a success.
Posted on Monday, January 22, 2018 by Henrico Dolfing

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