The way project managers define success is not always the same as the way the project sponsor does.
In fact, it is a surprisingly common scenario that project managers think the project is going great because the variables they are concerned with are on track while being oblivious to an unhappy project sponsor that is focusing on other variables.
For the project manager these variables usually involve meeting deadlines and keeping the project on budget. For the project sponsor the important variables usually involve the stakeholders. Were they satisfied? Are there adverse long term effects on someone? Will the organization get into trouble because of some small nuisance item the project manager ignored/overlooked?
The project management plan should define the project’s success factors. Because a project is defined as a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service, or result, it is inevitable that the budget and schedule are two key success factors for every project (or almost every one – but I really don’t know in what case it might not matter at all).
Here is an example from a project management plan:
2.1 Project Success Factors
This project will be considered a success if:
- It finishes under budget, providing an allowance for acceptable changes that are approved by the project sponsor.
- It finishes ahead of schedule, providing an allowance for acceptable changes that are approved by the project sponsor.
- The regulatory agency approves the project with reasonable mitigation measures.
- The owner is satisfied.
It is an important exercise to document the critical success factors for your projects. Of course the obvious ones require no explanation, but I see very few projects where there are no other success factors than the primary ones. There are almost always success factors that fly under the radar, things like stakeholder issues, occurrence of certain potential risks, and acceptance of certain interim deliverables.
For this reason we have prepared a checklist of potential project success factors. Next time you are preparing your project management plan and come to the section on project success factors, run down this checklist to make sure you have it all covered.
- Under budget
- Ahead of schedule
- Minimal change orders
- Project achieves award
- Stakeholder’s satisfied
- Stakeholder’s financial performance met
- Stakeholder’s timelines met
- Stakeholder’s communications sufficient
- Stakeholder’s communications on time
- Stakeholder’s approvals given
- Scope does not change
- Deliverables are accepted
- Deliverables are delivered on time
- Quality of deliverables is acceptable
- Quality standards are met
- Product meets minimum performance or specification level
- Quality control does not uncover quality problems
- End user adopts the product
- Schedule changes accepted by project sponsor
- Schedule changes accepted by stakeholder(s)
- Budget changes accepted by project sponsor
- Budget changes accepted by stakeholder(s)
- Project avoided unnecessary disruption to the business
- Project avoided unwanted changes to the corporate culture
- Project team works well together
- Project team leaves the project better than they started it
- Project team is motivated
- Project team members are satisfied
- Project team achieves financial reward, bonus, etc.
- Project team member achieves award
- Vendors are under budget
- Vendors deliver on time
- Vendors achieve quality target
- Vendors maintain relationship with stakeholder(s)
- Vendors achieve repeat business
- Certain major risks do not materialize
- Certain major risks are successfully mitigated
- Certain major risks are successfully transfered to a third party (warranties, etc.)
- Certain major risks occur but are well managed