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Friday, 21 November 2014 17:52

Four Simple Ways to Declare Project Success (Part 1 of 2)

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This content is from the TenStep weekly "tips" email dated 2014.11.19

When a project ends, many project teams struggle with whether they were really successful or not. Knowing how a project ended compared to its deadline and budget only tells part of the story. If a project team delivers a poor quality product on time and within budget, it still should not be viewed as a success?

Once you start thinking about your success criteria, however, there is an important factor to consider. The more you strive for accuracy and objectivity in your success criteria, the more complex and time consuming the data gathering and interpretation will become. Let’s look at four increasing complex ways to gauge overall project success.

Simple Sponsor Survey – Yes or No

Perhaps the simplest way to know if you were successful is to simply ask the sponsor. This is the most direct and the sponsor is usually the person who ultimately must judge success. The sponsor would take into account the budget, deadline, quality, etc., and also make a mental determination of which criteria was most important. This is a straight "yes" or "no" from the sponsor. What can be simpler?

Allow a Range of Survey Answers

The problem with the simple "yes" or "no" answer is that it does not leave any room for shades of gray. Usually the sponsor will be happy about how some things turned out and disappointed in other things.

A method that allows more options is to still ask one question, but allow the answer to be expressed in a range. For example, you can ask the sponsor "How satisfied were you with the overall success of the project?" and allow them to express their answer on a one through five scale. Now the sponsor has some discretion. If they are totally satisfied, they can score the project a five out of five. If they were happy about most things, but unhappy about some, they can rate the team a four out of five. This allows the sponsor to provide a little more of a gray area, while still keeping things very simple.

More Comprehensive Survey

You will probably discover that asking one question is just not enough. To gather more feedback, your survey needs to have more than one question. For instance, you may have multiple questions that ask, on a scale from one to five, how satisfied the individual was with:

  • How the team communicated
  • Whether the deliverables produced were of high quality
  • Whether the team responded in a timely manner
  • Whether the team was knowledgeable in the business area

This survey can also be completed by a wider range of people.

Adding Multiple Success Criteria

You can combine survey feedback with other basic information such as budget and deadline to determine the overall success of the project. As an example, the team may have been within 5% of budget and hit its deadline. They may also receive an overall consolidated 4.1 out of 5.0 on the survey.

In addition to gathering feedback, the project team must also establish a reasonable targets. For the budget and deadline, this probable means that you completed the project within your estimates – plus or minus your tolerance levels. For survey results, you could establish a target level, for instance, an average of 3.5 on a five-part scale.

This leads us to one more level of complexity. If you have multiple success criteria, how do you combine them all together? If your deadline was extremely important, for instance, you may find that the project was successful if it hit the deadline, even if it was over budget. This gets into the area of weighting the scorecard success criteria.

... I told you so. In our attempt to get more objective information we are also introducing more complexity. This is the way it goes.

Next week we will review a more comprehensive approach to understanding project success - the project scorecard.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
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