This paper was originally published as The Strategy of Running Temporary Projects, Innovation, 1971. Although published over thirty years ago, we believe that its perceptive insights are just as valid today.

Thanks to Bob Youker, World Bank (Retired), for bringing this paper to our attention. The paper has since been edited for web presentation, Editor

Copyright: Lawrence Bennigson, MA, 02108. Email: lbennigson@hbs.ed.

Published here August 2004.

Introduction | Background | Managing the Project
Strategic Design of a Comprehensive Project Management System (CPMS)  
Important Areas to Consider | Standard Success Criteria
The System Can Be Evaluated Separately from the Task | End Game
Editor's Footnote  | PART 2

Standard Success Criteria

Another important area concerns project measures of success, which are established by any of three sources: the client, the parent organization, or project personnel. The standard criteria identified most often are time, cost, and technical performance - delivery of a product on or before the time it's required, at or below the contracted cost, and within the range of design or performance specifications. These criteria are normally established by the client and based on his conditions and need for the product. While these three old favorites are relevant in almost any project, the priorities placed on them differ widely from project to project. Consequently, the management approach should differ accordingly.

Projects conducted in a politically unstable urban environment with federal funding available may involve very high priorities on timeliness, moderate priorities on cost, and low priorities on performance. On the other hand, an R&D project performed under a fixed-cost contract arrangement by a company experiencing cash-flow problems for an agency under congressional investigation implies quite a different set of priorities. A finely tuned, sensitively used PERT-Cost System may be quite ill suited to the first case but most appropriate to the latter.

There are several additional success criteria that are important in many projects but for some reason receive little overt attention. One of these is simply customer satisfaction. The customer's feeling of confidence in the project team or manager, the sense of trust that is created, the mutual sense of satisfaction achieved in resolving conflicts, and many other conditions add up to an overall sense of satisfaction. If these intangible satisfactions are important to the customer, and consequently the project, then careful attention must be given to the means by which the customer and the project interface.

Note that: It is possible to have dissatisfied, or at least not satisfied, customers even though explicit time, cost, and performance criteria have been met!

Two further criteria, most often established by the parent organization, are follow-on work and internal spin off. Many projects are seen as "foot-in-the-door" activities with new customers and/or new work expected to ensue. Such considerations can completely overshadow others under certain conditions.

Suppose, for instance, the development contract for a new technical device is seen as only a stepping-stone to a much larger, long run production contract. In such a case project management might be measured by the parent company strictly in terms of whether the follow-on work is obtained, and very high priority would be placed on criteria particularly important to the customer. Or suppose a new development project for a high-technology company is undertaken in hopes that the company will gain a substantial capability in an area of technology new to the company. In this case management might select a matrix-type organizational approach designed to facilitate the diffusion of knowledge throughout the technical groups. In addition, status reports could be somewhat detailed, reporting intervals short, and reports given far wider distribution than if they were to be used solely for management control purposes.

For some projects, the primary objective is to effect change, and the ability to do so becomes a major success criterion. Instituting a new process in a manufacturing company, implementing a new management information system, and conducting a community-oriented urban development effort all require substantial change in the way people outside the project do things. In these cases, elements of the CPMS that interface with the people who must change become critical. The project may have to utilize work groups to which "changees" can easily relate. Information systems will have to be designed to carry status information both within the project team and between the project and relevant people outside.

One or more of the seven foregoing criteria can measure the success of any project. When two or more criteria are relevant, it is necessary to assign relative priorities to them. It is important to see these criteria clearly, because their achievement depends on appropriate CPMS design. Inappropriate design can make it difficult for a project team to succeed even if its members are diligent, brilliant, and devoted.

Important Areas to Consider  Important Areas to Consider

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