The original version of this paper was first presented in Project Management World Today in the March 2000 issue.
It was subsequently updated and reproduced on this web site in November 2000.
This is Revision 17, March 2009.

Republished here October 2022.

Introduction | Meaning of Project Management | Definitions
Project Management Success | Criteria for Establishing a First Principle | PART 2

Project Management Success

What is project management success? Is it the success of the project or the success of the product? The two are not necessarily the same. It is also important to note that the impression of success can change with time. That certain objectives, e.g. that the "traditional measures" of being on time and within budget were not met, does not necessarily mean that the product of the project was a failure. Conversely, just because the management of the project was viewed as a great success does not mean that the resulting product will necessarily be viewed as a success if the expected benefits are not realized. There are many examples of such situations in the project management literature.

Therefore, Project Success is a multi-dimensional construct[18] that inevitably means different things to different people. As a matter of good practice, Success is best expressed at the beginning of a project in terms of key and measurable criteria, referred to as metrics, upon which the relative success or failure of the project may be judged. For example, those results that:[19]

  • Meet the key objectives of the project such as the business objectives of the sponsoring organization in the realization of benefits for the owner or user, and
  • Elicit satisfaction with the project management process, i.e. that the deliverable is complete, up to standard, is on time and within budget, and
  • Reflect general acceptance and satisfaction with the project's deliverable on the part of the project's customers-at-large and/or the majority of the project's community at some time in the future.

Although also known as Key Performance Indicators, we like to refer to these criteria as Key Success Indicators (KSIs).[20] KSIs should clearly relate to the project's key objectives and help in evaluating customer satisfaction and overall, the success of the project. KSIs are usually expressed as "SMART" statements, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.

Note that KSIs are not the same as Critical Success Factors (CSFs).[21] CSFs are those measurable factors that when present in the project's environment are most conducive to the achievement of a successful project. Examples include: Project objectives aligned with corporate mission; Top management support; A culture of open communication, and so on. The difference between KSIs and CSFs is that KSIs are dynamic and within the control of the project's management while CSFs are static and generally outside the direct control of the project's management.

Project Management Success is closely linked to opportunity and risk. Projects by their nature are risky endeavors and some project hazards cannot be entirely avoided or mitigated even when identified. Since project success may be impacted by risk events, it follows that both opportunity and risk are necessarily shared amongst the participants.

Definitions  Definitions

18. Shenhar, Aaron J., Dov Dvir and Ofer Levy, Project Success: A multidimensional Strategic Concept, Research paper, University of Minnesota, MN, June 1995.
19.This is a composite of ideas reflected in various success factors and indicators. See the definition in the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms: metrics
20. See the definition in the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms: KSI - key success indicators
21. See the definition in the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms: CSF - critical success factors
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