Two research articles from the Fall 2012 issue of PM Journal focused on the topic of project success. The articles covered the evolution in thinking from merely meeting the triple constraint to realizing expected outcomes as well as the reality that recognizing success is as susceptible to individual bias and perception as qualitative risk analysis.
One way to reduce the impacts of subjectivity in evaluating project success is to spend time up front in gaining consensus from all key stakeholders through a success definition meeting that would be conducted during your project initiation phase.
This session should start at a macro-level by considering the normal project constraints and asking stakeholders to answer the question “If this constraint was exceeded, but others were not, could you still consider the project a success?”. The answers to these questions will help you to understand the relative priority of the constraints and would also provide insights into what they consider important which will be a valuable input into stakeholder analysis.
Another question to ask stakeholders is to have them describe their desired end state – one way to do this is to ask them to put themselves in the future looking back on a successful project and have describe what will be different for the organization and for themselves. The benefit of this is that it ensures that they have thought through some of the longer term implications of a project and the feedback might also give you some ideas on when it makes sense to evaluate project success. Depending on how honest they are, it might also help to identify conflicting agendas or viewpoints.
Having covered these higher-level topics, dive into the details by soliciting identification of specific quantitative indicators that will be used to objectively assess success.
When identifying these indicators, the following Why, What, How & When questions could be asked:
- Do we have a baseline or current measurement for the indicator, and if not, can we accurately measure the indicator in a cost-efficient manner? If the answer to this question is no, then you’ll need to keep searching.
- Is this indicator going to be affected (positively or negatively) by other projects currently underway? If so, can you further refine the indicator definition to avoid cross-project influence?
- Is this indicator susceptible to environmental or external factors (e.g. changes in regulation, competitive action)? If so, how do you plan to normalize the measurement to exclude such impacts?
- Is the indicator’s measurement likely to be affected by the business cycle or other timing? If so, can you refine the specific measurement to permit an “apples to apples” (or at least “apples to pears”!) comparison?
This information should be shared with all team members and stakeholders to ensure consistent understanding. Beyond measurement purposes, it can be used as a reference for risk identification and analysis and can help to focus change and decision impact analysis.
If “Action is the foundational key to all success“, then an immediate action for your projects should be to identify what success is!