Project Success – What Does It Actually Mean?

Everyone who joins a new project asks themselves the key question: what to do to make it work? There have been dozens of book volumes written about factors that influence the success of a project or reasons for its failures. However, there are many doubts concerning the fact when a project can be considered successfully completed. Is there a single objective criterion allowing to assess it at all? Can we speak about success in case of exceeded budget and deadline? And what about the activities that, despite meeting all initial assumptions, do not provide the expected business benefits? What should be considered a failure? Let’s take a closer look at what the success of a project is and how it can be measured.

The Iron Triangle

Trying to find out how can we know if a project was successful, we should start from the classic criterion which is providing the assumed functionality in the agreed deadline and within the budget limit. This is the so-called definition by means of the project management triangle: scope, time and costs. Keeping control over those areas is undoubtedly a proof of talent and skills of the project manager. However, is this always necessary for a project to be declared successful? The reality shows that it is not. The Sydney Opera is a great example here – its construction was completed 10 years after the set deadline and its budget was exceeded fourteen times. And yet, everybody would agree that this Australian symbol can be referred to in terms of failures.

Customer’s Satisfaction

No project is a lonely island. That is why we cannot consider project success or failure in isolation from short and long-term benefits the Customer gains from its implementation. Higher competitiveness of the organisation, increase in the market share, users’ satisfaction, financial profits or improvement of everyday team functioning are just some of the elements having effect on the customer’s satisfaction. It is not without significance whether the project was implemented efficiently and what impression was made on the customer in terms of cooperation with the contractor. All this should be supplement with future-oriented approach. A product that provides an organisation with multiple new opportunities will be definitely perceived as success too a much greater extent that a product that solves only the current problems.

Benefits for the Project Team

A successful project from the perspective of the person implementing it might look quite different. What can be considered the measure of success in such a case? Apart from the mere completion within the projected budget and deadline, financial benefits and customer’s satisfaction, the experiences from project implementation, such as minor changes of basic project assumptions and process effectiveness, may also affect its assessment. Additionally, the factors proving the cusses are also possibility to continue cooperation with the given customer, positive references or maintaining good image of the company.

Taking everything into consideration, project success can have many faces. There is no single universal measure that could be applied in all cases and the assessment method depends greatly on the point of view. That is why any project should have the main criteria of success and tools allowing to meet them established from the very beginning.

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