No project begins with the expecation that it will fail. Obviously, we all seek as much success as time and circumstances will allow (and maybe even more than that). But, just what is project success and can it really be achieved without defined criteria, shared expectations and tangible consensus? Read on to find the answers.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this questions. The best answer may very well be "it all depends". At the broadest level, success is a measurement of timeliness, budget utilization, and the extent to which the primary project needs were met. Is the project on time? If so, that is success. Is the project within budget? If so, that is success. Are the project results as planned and required? If so, that is success. But there's more to it.
To cope with the quirks of project success, project managers must understand and accept the dualities involved, and work to ensure that "all-inclusive" success criteria are properly defined before work begins. Stakeholders must be included in this process to ensure shared expectations and acceptance of the key operating premise - that success exists at many levels, and that any single outcome (positive or negative) may not be globally determinative. That's the way to make success possible (and probable)!
How does it work? Success subjectivity is minimized through the use of pre-defined success criteria, so that success can be quantified before work begins. Everyone will know what they are working towards, and when the time comes to measure success, established benchmarks will be available. To address the uncertainty that subjective bias, interests and influences will bring, related "success criteria" should be defined in the most inclusive way possible, accounting for all primary variations in perspectives and dimensions:
To ensure that established success criteria are suitably realistic, criteria development must follow the "define, align and approve" paradigm. In short, success criteria must be suitably specified in measureable terms, they must be aligned to project needs and constraints, and must be approved by all decision making stakeholders.
At the end of a project, success criteria can be used as basis for evaluating project performance. And, if you looked at success from a single perspective, you would miss important indicators for future performance improvements. As you go through your post-project review, you can use your success criteria as a benchmark for evaluating overall project performance:
As we have previously discussed, projects can succeed or fail on any number of levels, and can still be considered a success if overall priorities and objectives are met. But that does not mean that there is no further room for improvement.
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