What are the key factors in evaluating the success of a project?

In the June 2011 edition of Project Manager Today magazine, I published an article called: “Complex, but not Complicated”, where I discussed how there are a number of generic parts/critical success factors whose influence on project success must be fully appreciated in order to achieve success.

So, what are the key success factors when evaluating the success of a project?  Or looking at it in a slightly different way, let’s think of this question as: “if we were to state that a project was as a success, what factors would we have looked at to come to this conclusion”?

Clearly, it depends on your definition or expectation of what success means. Remember that it is not within the scope of a project to realise the benefits resulting from the use of the produced outputs (some benefits maybe realised during the project, but most likely not all of them) – as a project can deliver its outputs on time, to cost, to quality but this is no guarantee that the benefits will manifest. I will add, however, that benefits realisation planning is one of the critical success factors of a project as if there is no view of how or whether the benefits can be realised, should the project start/continue? What I am saying is that the ‘physical act’ of realising the (majority of) benefits is not undertaken in the project.

Based on this, the correct project outputs need to be created – clearly – but is this all? Would you judge a project a success solely based on if it produced the required outputs? Think of it now in the situation where the project produced the desired outputs but the project plan was, how shall I put it, less than optimal. Success was achieved more from individual commitment than good project management.

Consider the following list. Would you consider these factors influence the success of a project?

  1. The organisational maturity in project management
  2. The robustness of the project governance structure
  3. An organisation’s consistent use of a project management method
  4. An organisation’s project management capability and capacity
  5. The organisational context in which the project operates
  6. An organisation’s culture
  7. The number of stakeholders impacted
  8. The number of stakeholders involved
  9. The degree of stakeholder commitment
  10. The value of the desired (potential) benefits (financial or otherwise)
  11. Whether an organisation has a ‘track record’ in this type of project
  12. The risk appetite of the organisation

I certainly do!

Success on a project is dependent on more than just producing the desired outputs. An organisation can deliver projects on time, to cost, to quality through individual commitment and, let’s be honest, luck. But luck runs out eventually.

For organisations to be consistently successful on projects a number of generic, non-technical factors need to be influenced also. In my experience, it is these success factors that are the critical ones.

Dr Ian Clarkson is Head of Project and Programme Management Product Development aQA -leading providers of Prince2 courses. His role provides business direction and ownership of QA’s portfolio, programme, project and risk management curriculum. Ian is an experienced lecturer, author, speaker and consultant, having delivered programmes and projects in all industry sectors.

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One Response to “What are the key factors in evaluating the success of a project?”

  1. matt says:

    I think you would certainly have to consider those 12 factors. Whether they are paramount to the success or failure of the project is subject to the type of project. I think the capacity and capability of the project team is very important. If they are capable then they can deal withsome of the other issues within the list.

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