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.

Published here January, 2002

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


The purpose of modern project management is to conduct a successful project. If the meaning of success was generally agreed, and this could be related to a satisfactory project typology, this relationship would significantly help those responsible for formulating projects. It would be especially constructive for those contemplating projects for the first time.

Historically, project management responded to the need to create civil and building works of some complexity. In the 1950s project management achieved greater prominence when the planning and control concepts were applied to much more complex projects such as those of the US navy and, subsequently, NASA space projects. In the last couple of decades, project management has emerged as a business process tool with broad application in the corporate world. It is seen as the management approach of choice for dealing with an ever-shifting business environment, rapid technological change, and the vicissitudes of stiff global competition.

Today, it is even more of a truism that "Projects come in all shapes and sizes!" We have a much improved understanding of project management tools and techniques, and this decade has focused on the importance of the behavioral and organizational aspects of projects. Yet relatively little focus has been given to the meaning of success. Even less, one suspects, are measurable success criteria identified and tailored to the type of project at the time of formulation.

In days gone by, the old axiom "On time, on budget" and (for the more advanced thinkers) "conformance to requirements" was deemed the mark of success. Yet the literature is rife with examples of projects that were either completed late or finished over budget, and were still considered successful. Less well documented are all those projects that were completed on time and within budget but stand as a monument to ineptitude.

Clearly, the old adage of on time, on budget and (even) conformance to requirements are not, of themselves, satisfactory success criteria. The reality is that the notion of "success", and "project success" in particular, is a much more complex issue. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the most important dimensions of success and how these relate to different types of project.


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