If you have no idea what you are working towards or what project success looks like, then it becomes difficult to know when you have achieved your goal. Projects with a high level of complexity and therefore a high level of uncertainty means that criteria as strict as meeting the planned budget and timeline might be difficult to achieve and are not always reflective of the real success or failure of a project. Alternatives, like did the project fulfil the planned scope, (e.g., do we have clean data on the required number of patients), may be more important measures of success.
Traditionally project success has been measured by meeting the criteria associated with the iron triangle i.e., it did not exceed the planned budget or timeline and the quality of the final deliverable was acceptable. Roger Atkinson’s (1999) view was that even in an ideal situation the budget and the timeline are only your best guess and quality is a phenomenon that develops as the project progresses.
A further problem with just considering elements like planned budget and planned timeline is that they both are subject to “political” influence which means they may not be realistic in the first place. Budget and timelines can be demanding but if they are unrealistic this will lead to demotivated project teams. This is why it is vitally important that success criteria are collaboratively developed and agreed.
Below are some suggestions on potential success criteria:
The project is completed within the planned timeline.
The project is completed within the planned budget.
The project fulfilled the planned scope.
The project meets or exceeds the quality standards.
Stakeholders agree that project communication is effective and beneficial.
Project plans are updated in a timely fashion.
The key stakeholders are satisfied with the outcome of the project.
All the resources given to the project manager are fruitfully utilized.
The team gains experience and is satisfied with the project result.
The project meets the sponsor’s needs.
Project Management was effective.
Why is it in the Lab?
A clear understanding of the project's success criteria will enable you to measure relevant progress and select metrics and key performance indicators that give you the information that you need. The collaborative aspect of deciding what constitutes project success and how it will be measured reduces the relational risk, by negating arguments about the validity of project progress data.
“What I love about the Roger Atkinson paper is that it focuses on the reality of the original plan and hopefully stimulates an investigation of what project success real means.”
“One thing I like here is that it demonstrated the flexibility and specificity of what constitutes success to trials. This is a great space for creative conversations across the entire team and lends itself well to different perspectives and skills.”
“I really like the emphasis put on the collaborative nature of identifying and agreeing the criteria; by doing things in this way you are creating the environment by which success can be demonstrated to a wide variety of stakeholders.”