This Guest paper was submitted for publication, August 7, 2021.
It is copyright to Henrico Dolfing © 2021.
Published here September 2021.

Editor's Note | When Is a Project a Success? 
Project Inputs, Activities, Outputs, Outcomes, Impact and Results
The Three Levels of Project Success | The Project Success Model
What Exactly Are Capabilities, Then? | PART 2

When Is a Project a Success?

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
— Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

Project success and project failure are NOT absolutes. Remember:

It may not be possible to be a little bit pregnant, but you can be a little bit successful!

Every project has multiple success criteria related to business results, product/service results, and project delivery results (cost, schedule, scope, and quality). Some criteria are absolute, meaning they must be completed on or before the original planned date, and some are relative, meaning they must be completed by a date acceptable to the client.

Project success is determined by how many of your success criteria are satisfied, and how well. Whether or not a project is successful also depends on who you ask. For example:

  • The very happy project manager: who implemented the SAP project as scoped on time and below budget (Yes, I know. This will NEVER happen!)
  • The end users: who absolutely hate the complexity and slowness of the new system.
  • The COO:[2] who has seen IT costs double whilst none of the expected savings materialized.

You can see that they may all have very different opinions on the success of their project.

Project Success also depends on when you ask. For example, twelve months after the go-live, the users will have a better grasp of the system and initial performance problems will have been solved. And slowly but steadily, the expected savings will hopefully start to materialize as well. So in order to define success and failure of your project you should:

  1. Define all the criteria relevant to your project.
  2. Define how you will measure them.
  3. Define when you will measure them.

And that is where the Project Success Model™ can help you.

Editor's Note  Editor's Note

2. COO = Chief Operating Officer
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