Project Management: Seven Ways to Measure Success

One of the most common challenges for project managers is determining whether or not a project is successful. Is it successful once the scope of work is completed, or only if it’s completed on time and on budget? Or does success simply depend on getting sign-off from a satisfied client, even if the scope expanded well beyond the original commitment?

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Since everyone involved in a project is likely to have a personal perspective on what successful completion will look like, you’ll want to start your project plan by clearly defining a selection of success criteria that everyone agrees with.

What Will Success Look Like?

Here are seven ways in which you might measure the success of a project. Depending on the type and purpose of the project, determine which of these elements are most important to everyone involved and then define the specific metrics you will use within each selected criteria to measure the success of your project.

Budget: In many cases, budget is the most important factor in defining both the scope and the success of a project. It often constrains scheduling as well, since delays can be costly. Questions to consider before basing your success metrics on the project budget include:

  • How important is it that the project be completed on or under budget?
  • Are additional resources available to fund project cost overruns, scope expansion or schedule delays?
  • Has a margin of error or buffer amount been built into the budget calculation?
  • Has a contingency budget been allocated to the project?
  • Does the anticipated ROI warrant an increased budget under certain circumstances?
  • Is there a clear process for increasing the budget if the client (or someone else) expands the scope or causes project delays?

Timing: There are a number of questions to consider about project scheduling before deciding whether timely completion should be one of your success metrics for the project, including:

  • How important is the completion deadline?
  • Is there any flexibility in the overall schedule or with respect to certain milestones?
  • Are there any penalties or additional costs associated with scheduling delays?
  • Do any other projects rely on this project being completed on time? If so, how critical are those related projects?
  • Is completing the project on time a priority or are other aspects more important?

Scope: Here are some questions to think about before deciding whether one or more of your success metrics should be related to scope:

  • Is completing everything within the agreed upon scope of work the most important part of the project?
  • Does the scope (as defined) differentiate between “must do” elements and “do if possible” items?
  • Do penalties apply if elements of the project are not completed?
  • Is there slack in the schedule to accommodate change requests that expand the scope of the project?
  • Have you defined a change request process to ensure that budget and schedule are modified when the client (or someone else) asks to expand the scope?
  • Do you have sufficient internal resources to deal with an expanded scope?

Quality: Project managers know that it’s impossible to do the highest quality work, for the lowest price, in the shortest amount of time. That’s why you have to think about which success measures are most important for each project. If you choose to define the success of your project in terms of quality of work, be sure to establish metrics that are attainable given the scope, schedule and budget of the project and their relative importance.

Client/Customer satisfaction: While it can be difficult to measure client satisfaction, doing so is critical to the success of your business. Whether your client is external (a customer who purchases products/services from your company) or internal (someone in another department in your organization for whom the project is being completed), measuring the success of your project on the basis of client satisfaction is good practice. Unlike some other metrics, customer satisfaction ratings are best measured throughout the project so that course corrections can be made when they fall short.

Project team satisfaction: Another way to measure the success of a project is based on team satisfaction. If keeping your team engaged in challenging and satisfying projects is a priority, you may choose to measure the success of a project on that basis by including one or more team satisfaction metrics when you measure project success.

Personal and professional development: One final way of measuring project success that is often overlooked is based on the contribution a project makes to the personal and professional development of the project manager and other members of the team. When defining your project success metrics, consider the following:

  • Does the project represent an opportunity for you or members of your project team to achieve one or more personal goals; such as increasing self-confidence or making new connections within the organization?
  • Will the leadership skills you develop from running the project contribute to your professional development goals?
  • Does the project offer opportunities for project team members to hone skills that will benefit them at work and in their careers?
  • Will the project management experience you gain contribute to the attainment of a project management designation?

Begin With the End in Mind

Habit number two in Stephen R. Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” According to Covey, this means “to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”  If we apply this philosophy to project management, it means envisioning what a successful conclusion to each project will look like; and then defining the metrics that will allow you to measure the project’s success against those parameters you have identified as most important to that project. By defining what success looks like in advance you will know exactly what you are striving for and there will be no question about whether or not you have achieved it.


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