Aaron J. Shenhar, Professor of Technology Management and James J. Renier Visiting Chair, Center for the Development of Technological Leadership, University of Minnesota, MN and R. Max Wideman

A paper presented to the Southern Alberta Chapter, Project Management Institute, Symposium "Creating Canadian Advantage through Project Management", Calgary, May 1996

Introduction | Success | Scope | Dimensions
Correlation | Classification | Correlating Success | Conclusions

Dimensions of Project Success

Initially, thirteen separate success criteria were identified, plus an overall project success assessment. These included: functional performance; meeting technical specifications; meeting schedule goal; meeting budget; fulfilling customer needs; solving a customer's problem; the extent to which the customer is using the product; customer satisfaction; commercial success; creating a larger market share; creating a new market, creating a new product line; and developing a new technology.

Pearson Correlation coefficients between all fourteen measures were determined and studied. A not surprising result was the high correlation between the measure of total success and customer satisfaction. A factor analysis was then performed to ascertain the possibility of distinct success dimensions by which managers perceived project success. This revealed four distinct primary categories (Principal Success Criteria) as seen at project completion. These are described as follows.

1. Internal Project Objectives (efficiency during the project)

  • How successful was the project team in meeting its schedule objectives?
  • How successful was the project team in meeting its budget objectives?
  • How successful was the project team in managing any other resource constraints?

2. Benefit to Customer (effectiveness in the short term)

  • Did the product meet its specified requirements of functional performance and technical standards?
  • What was the project's impact on the customer, and what did the customer gain?
  • Does the customer actually use the product, and are they satisfied with it?
  • Does the project's product fulfill the customer's needs, and/or solve the problem?

3. Direct Contribution (in the medium term)

  • Has the new or modified product become an immediate business and/or commercial success, has it enhanced immediate revenue and profits?
  • Has it created a larger market share?

4. Future Opportunity (in the long term)

  • Has the project created new opportunities for the future, has it contributed to positioning the organization consistent with its vision, goals?
  • Has it created a new market or new product potential, or assisted in developing a new technology?
  • Has it contributed additional capabilities or competencies to the organization?

These Principal Success Criteria are summarized in Table 1. A cursory examination of these Principal Success Criteria reveals that they are clearly time-dependent. This time relationship is shown in Figure 1.

Success Category

Measurable Success Criteria

Internal Project Objectives

  • Meeting schedule
  • Within budget
  • Other resource constraints met

Benefit to Customer
(Short term)

  • Meeting functional performance
  • Meeting technical specifications & standards
  • Favorable impact on customer, customer's gain
  • Fulfilling customer's needs
  • Solving a customer's problem
  • Customer is using product
  • Customer expresses satisfaction

Direct Contribution
(Medium term)

  • Immediate business and/or commercial success
  • Immediate revenue and profits enhanced
  • Larger market share generated

Future Opportunity
(Long term)

  • Will create new opportunities for future
  • Will position customer competitively
  • Will create new market
  • Will assist in developing new technology
  • Has, or will, add capabilites and competencies
Table 1: Principal Success Criteria
Figure 1: Time Dependency of Project Success (i.e. success varies with time)
Figure 1: Time Dependency of Project Success (i.e. success varies with time)

It is also not difficult to infer that, for a given project, its perception of success may change with time. This would depend on the elapsed time since project completion. For example, a project could have its principal focus on creating future opportunity (Category 4). Such a project is unlikely to be viewed as successful until such time as those opportunities have actually materialized.

It would be interesting to look at various industries to determine appropriate intervals corresponding to "Short", "Medium" and "Long" Term. Some sort of yardstick would also be needed for comparison between similar types of project. The duration of the project execution phases might provide such a yardstick.

Scope of Recently-Completed Study  Scope of Recently-Completed Study

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