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 - A Different View

As I have pointed out, project success tends to be measured by the big three: Cost, Time, and Requirements being met because these are easy and timely to measure. With standard project management techniques, you can identify at any given point in the project management process whether you currently have a successful project, or a challenged one. That is: "This focuses upon the project process and, in particular, the successful accomplishment of cost, time and quality objectives. It also considers the manner in which the project management process was conducted."[18]

However, this does not deal with the issues facing the project manager under many current business conditions. "Clearly, the old adage of on time, on budget, and (even) conformance to requirements are not, of themselves, satisfactory success criteria"[19]

As Baccaini points out: "It is common for project management literature to confusingly intertwine the two separate components of project success [and product success]."[20] Consequently: "No system of project metrics is complete without both sets of measures (performance and success) ..."[21]

Even this leaves out certain very important factors. The original specifications may not have been correct, the budget allocated to the project may not have been sufficient, and the time limit called for may have been flawed. The manager and/or stakeholder who, in his or her zeal to get a project started, will often downplay this try to make the Return on Investment look more optimistic. The easiest way to exaggerate ROI is by showing the implementation costs as low as possible in a "best case scenario" with "wild guesses" for the time and cost of the project. More likely, the true requirements and ramifications of the project may not be fully understood leading to significant cost and time over-runs.

Management has traditionally turned a blind eye to this as once a project is completed and everyone starts working on other projects and/or is working on the support of the new process/system/product. Rarely is a post-implementation review conducted, and when it is, rarely is the actual ROI measured. This leaves the individuals who originally created the project request specifications free from repercussions in the event of project overruns.

This situation leaves the project manager without any feedback mechanisms except for those he/she happens to be able to monitor personally. While this brings us back to the Quality, Cost and Speed metrics, it does not provide any indication of the success of the project to the organization. Is it possible that a percentage of the "Challenged" projects are actually successes to the organization and vice-versa, so that a percentage of the "Successful" projects shown in figure 1 are really failures?

Project Success - As Commonly Measured   Project Success - As Commonly Measured

18. Baccarini, David, 1999, pp. 25, The logical framework method for defining project success, Project Management Journal, 30 (4)
19. Wideman, R.M., Improving PM: Linking Success Criteria to Project Type, Available On-Line at: p1
20. Baccarini, David, 1999, pp. 25, The logical framework method for defining project success, Project Management Journal, 30 (4)
21. Cooke-Davies, Terry, April 2002, p188 (pp. 185-190), The "real" success factors on projects, International journal of project management, 20 (3)
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