Measuring Project Success

RulersI recently saw a question on Reddit, asking for insights on how organizations measured project success.

I work for a large company who has it’s own internal PM consulting team. I have a question for all the external PM consultants. How does your company measure success? Is it customer satisfaction? Specifically what metrics do you use? We are having difficulty creating a baseline for the programs/projects we consult on and looking for feedback. Most of our projects that need consulting are referred to us from higher management so sometimes they can be difficult to work with if that makes sense.

It’s a good question. This was my reply:

The users of the delivered product will define success in terms of whether it meets their needs. Their usage level is generally a pretty good gauge of project success, but it’s only available after the project is completed.

The PMO and project sponsor will generally define success in terms of “on time delivery, on budget, with everything in scope delivered as planned.” This is a project-centric definition of success, independent of the user definition of success, and tends to get the most attention during the project.

The people who have to support and maintain the resulting product care about quality, reliability, maintainability, and life cycle cost. Again, this definition of success is independent of the other two, but it first becomes visible during the latter stages of project.

The senior executives care about whether the project and product delivered the ROI they had in mind when they approved funding. This isn’t something you can usually measure until long after the project is complete and the product delivered, but it’s really the most important metric.

I’ve seen projects completed on time, on budget, with everything in scope delivered with the right quality level, that were total failures because the users didn’t use the new product, or because the market had moved on, or because ownership costs exceeded value delivered. There are no simple answers, definitions, or metrics – we labor in a fog of uncertainty. But if you work with the project sponsor, intended users, and maintenance organization to understand the business goals of the project, and how it fits into the larger strategic plan for the organization, or program, or project portfolio, then you can devise appropriate measurements that will let you manage the project for success.