How do you define project success?

I’d like to welcome Charles Troger, PMP from Treehouse Consulting as today’s guest blogger.  He’ll be teaching our upcoming workshop, scheduled for Feb 25, 2010, on “Managing for Success: Project Management for the Non-Profit Sector.”  In this post Charles talks about the crucial elements of time, cost and quality that will help you define the success of your projects. 

In the world of project management, a “project” is considered to be a temporary endeavour that can be anything from creating this year’s annual report to planning and implementing a new program.  When you use project management principles to carry out a project, you need to find a way to define your project’s success.  How do you do that?  And how do you know when your project is complete?

What if, for example, your project involves purchasing, assembling and donating a piece of playground equipment to your community?  We know what the product or service is, what we call the “scope” of the project.  But is the total measure of success to have completed the scope, delivered the product or service that we promised?  Not quite!!

Project Managers use other measures to quantify success.  For every project, the team initially defines outcomes or objectives that, if met, will indicate that the project has been successful.  These outcomes typically fall into three categories: time, cost and quality.  Time, cost and quality are often affectionately called the “triple constraints” of project management.

Examples could include:
• The project has a budget of $250,000
• The project must be completed before June 30, 2010.
• The playground equipment must be constructed in compliance with CSA safety standards.

The triple constraints are sometimes graphically portrayed like this:
As stated previously, every project has established objectives or outcomes.  Have a look at the projects on your ‘to do’ list.  In every case you will see that the objectives for your projects fall into one of the above categories, time, cost or quality.  Think of the triple constraints and their relationship to the scope of the project as well.  Imagine then, by looking at the above diagram, that if I increase the scope of my project then it will also result in some change to time, cost or quality.  They are all inter-dependent.  If you want better quality, it might take longer or cost more.  If you decrease the time available, it might not allow you to deliver all of the intended scope, or it might cost more to complete the full scope by fast-tracking it.

Using our playground example above, we have learned that even though we might successfully install the equipment, we still may not be successful overall.  We must still ask ourselves if we met project objectives or outcomes.  Were we on budget, did we meet the schedule, is the equipment properly certified?  These are all important considerations when measuring our overall success.

So, in conclusion, how do we measure success?  And how do we know the project is complete?  First, by working with our stakeholders and establishing baselines for time, cost, quality and scope for the project.  Last, by delivering the scope of the project, and then measuring our success against our previously established baselines.

Charles will further explore these and other project management principles in our upcoming workshop, which is specifically geared to non-profit organizations. To sign up for “Managing for Success: Project Management for the Non-Profit Sector” please visit the seminars & workshops page on our website for more information.

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