This paper was submitted for publication 11/22/05 and is copyright to Brian K. Willard © 2005.
Published here June 2006.

Abstract | Introduction | What is Project Management | Project Creation
Project Success - As Commonly Measured | Project Success - A Different View
Project Success and Failures | Project Success - New Metrics and Measurements

Project Success and Failures

So how does one determine if a project is successful? Lets first look at some examples and see if the traditional metrics are valid.

One of the difficulties is that most case studies and project management examples only provide examples of success. Those that do show failure are usually ones that are government or public works projects. This makes examples like the following difficult to identify.

The following are examples that were provided by Hugh Woodward, PMP:[22]

  1. Sydney Opera House: With its graceful sails dominating Sydney Harbor, the Sydney Opera House is arguably one of the most recognized buildings in the world. Yet, from a project management perspective, it was a spectacular failure. When construction started in 1959, it was estimated to cost $7 million, and take four years to build. It was finally completed in 1973 for over $100 million.[23]
  2. 2002 Olympic Winter Games: The 2002 Olympic Winter Games was a very successful project from a project management perspective, winning designation as PMI's 2003 International Project of the Year.[24] It achieved the key dates, of course. But it deviated from the conventional approach to "success" with respect to its cost performance. The project managers boast that they turned a $100 million deficit into a $400 million surplus, not just by eliminating "nice-to-have" items, but also by securing additional funds. Clearly, success was measured by profitability, not by achieving a specific cost target.
  3. Batu Hijau Copper Concentrator: PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara's Batu Hijau copper concentrator was the world's largest "greenfield" startup when it was commissioned in September 1999.[25] It was an extremely complex construction project located on the remote Indonesian island of Sumbawa involving 1,704,000 design hours, 48,791,000 construction hours, 551 separate systems, and 19,200 engineering drawings and documents. Nevertheless, it was completed one month ahead of schedule and $100 million under budget. It was considered very successful, but not merely because of its cost and schedule performance. Rather, it was viewed as successful because the production ramp-up was faster than expected, producing a cash flow from operations exceeding 200% of budget within a year after start-up. In this case, the project team focused on the real objective that was to produce copper concentrate, not to achieve the cost and schedule targets.
  4. Project Orion: This massive effort to develop Kodak's new Advantix photographic system was reputedly very well managed from a project management perspective. PMI recognized it as the 1997 International Project of the Year, and Business Week selected the system as one of the best new products of 1996 (Adams, 1998). But Kodak's stock price has fallen 67% since the introduction of the Advantix system, in part because it failed to anticipate the accelerating switch to digital photography.[26]
  5. Corporate Intranet: Finch describes a project that involved the implementation of a corporate intranet to globalize and improve communications. From a traditional project perspective, it failed to meet its success criteria, but not significantly. It was one month late and believed to have been accomplished with a small budget overrun. But both the project manager and senior management viewed the project as successful. The hardware and software had been installed successfully with a minimum of disruption, thereby providing all staff members with access to the corporate intranet. Following implementation, however, employees made only limited use of the intranet facilities. The main objective of the project was therefore not achieved. In this case, both the project manager and senior management focused on an objective that was too narrow.[27]
  6. Plant Water Conservation: A manufacturing plant in a semi-arid part of the USA was ordered to reduce its water consumption by 10%. Although the plant was already one of the most water-efficient facilities of its kind in the world, the project team compiled a list of additional recycling and conservation measures, and began implementation. Several months later, the company decided to close down an orange juice facility that happened to be located at the same site, thereby reducing water consumption by almost enough to meet the mandated target. The project team was thus able to return the unspent funds to the company. Had it been focused on implementing the project scope according to the initial plan, this opportunity to achieve the real goal without additional spending would have been missed.
  7. Manufacturing Plant Optimization: A paper manufacturing company with five plants across North America decided to increase its manufacturing capacity by embarking on a de-bottlenecking program. A project team was formed to install the necessary equipment, and charged with completing the work in 18 months at a cost of $26 million. But almost immediately, the project team was asked to defer major expenditures until an unrelated cash flow problem was resolved. Rather than stop work completely, the team adopted a strategy of prototyping the technologies on which the de-bottlenecking program was based, and actually developed some cheaper and more effective solutions. Even when the project was authorized to proceed, the team continued this same approach. The project eventually spanned five years, but the resulting capacity increase was three times the initial commitment. Not surprisingly, the company immediately appropriated another $40 million to continue the program.
  8. Laptop Upgrade: The IT division of major international company was upgrading all the employee workstations to a new platform. Because the laptops used by the sales division were near the end of their leases, the project manager decided to issue new laptops with the new platform already installed, thus significantly reducing the overall project cost. Unfortunately, once this decision was made, schedule became the critical project objective, and the fact that the new platform was incompatible with some unique software used by the sales division was completely overlooked. The inevitable result was an enormous productivity loss, for both the project team and the sales division.
  9. Senior Citizens Center Relocation: A senior citizens center in a small US city was granted a parcel of land to construct a new state-of-the-art facility. They immediately began preparing to move, and engaged an architect to develop the plans. They also recognized they would need additional revenue to operate the new facility and that the necessary funds were available from government sources provided the center was accredited. Therefore, they also engaged a consultant to pursue accreditation. Both projects proceeded independently for several months, and would have continued except for a chance meeting between the architect and the consultant. After discussing their respective work, they realized that the accreditation criteria required certain building features that the architect had not incorporated. Scarce funds had already been wasted, but that chance meeting narrowly averted a further $500,000 in re-work.[28]

So in these examples, which ones were truly successful? Examples like the 2002 Winter Olympics and the Batu Hijau Copper Concentrator would suggest that these are truly successful because they not only met the traditional project managers' definition of success, but also met the projects sponsors' perception of success.

As we start to look at the examples like Project Orion, the Corporate Intranet and the Laptop Upgrade, we notice that the traditional metrics start to fail. These projects are considered successes in project managers' definition of success, but failed at meeting the sponsors' success criteria. The project Orion example is quite astounding as this project was recognized by PMI (Project Management International) in 1997 as the International project of the year. Yet it did not increase Kodak's revenue, because they did not foresee the adoption of digital cameras.

Most interesting are the examples of the Manufacturing Plant Optimization and the Sydney Opera House. They both failed to meet the traditional project managers' success metrics but were in fact considered successes. This is particularly shocking when you see that the Sydney Opera House had a "cost overrun of 1300%" and a "schedule overrun of 250%".[29]

Once we realize that projects can fail to meet the traditional metrics of success, but still be successful to the stakeholders, this creates a quandary for the project manager. How does one really define success? Is it possible that a "Challenged" project could be canceled that would have met the sponsors' needs? Is it also possible to identify a project that should be canceled that is currently on time, on budget and meeting the defined needs?

Project Success - A Different View  Project Success - A Different View

22. Woodward, Hugh PMP, PowerPoint Presentation to NASA on March 23, 2005, Available On-Line at:
23. Architecture Week, 2003
24. Foti, 2004
25. Enos & Rogers, 2002
26. Bandler, 2003
27. Finch, 2003
28. Woodward, Hugh, PMP, Managing Editor of PMFORUM.ORG, PP 2-3 Beyond Cost, Schedule and Performance: Project Success as the Customer Sees It, in an unpublished paper sent by Email to the author
29. Ibid.
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