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What Does Project Success Mean to You?

We have had a lot of discussions internally about “Measuring Project Success.”  At an extremely simplistic level, Seilevel defines success as having been achieved when all the business objectives identified for the project are met. Each business objective will have one or more success metric(s) defined for it. So, when we are able to measure and evaluate each of the success metrics identified at the beginning of the project, we will have an objective measure of project success.

As we work through this process of defining project success at Seilevel, one thing stands out to me. There is no universal or “standard” way of measuring the success of an IT project. In fact, there are probably as many definitions of success as there are organizations implementing IT projects.

Below are some examples of project success statements that you may have heard before.

  1. We met our business objectives. Successful project!!
  2. We measured all the success metrics for each of our business objectives. All measures came in at or above our targets. Successful project!!
  3. We solved the business problems we were addressing with our efforts. Successful project!!
  4. We came out of testing and launched over the weekend. It has been five days since launch and no one has been fired as yet. Yay, we made it!  Successful project!!
  5. The entire sales team has been using it for a week and we have not heard anything. So must be working out well, I guess. Successful project!!
  6. We just finished our “Lessons Learned” meeting this morning. With that, we have hit all our project phase exit milestones. Time to move on to the next big thing. Successful project!!
  7. You mean the stuff we worked on last summer? I have since worked on three new initiatives and moved on with life. Successful project!!
  8. Are you trying to get me fired? I am not going to measure anything. Please leave my office immediately. Successful project!!
  9. The whole team got fired. It was a disaster. This is what happens when you start measuring stuff randomly. Successful measurement.  Disastrous outcome!!
  10. Did we spend all the money you had budgeted for the sales process improvement project last year? Yes? Excellent. Successful project!!

Your own organization is likely using one or more of these ‘qualifying statements’ or some variant thereof to measure project success. I would also guess there is no agreement even within the different teams in your company as to how to measure success or even bother with it.

So why does any of this matter? We have all been chugging along quite well so far without having to be held accountable for our actions in any meaningful sense so far. Why mess with a good thing?

Three reasons come to mind right off the bat to change the status quo of non-standard measures of success (for that matter, an outright indifference to even attempt to measure it in any meaningful fashion). None of these reasons are altruistic, and extremely meaningful to anyone who practices our craft or is considering it at profession.

  1. Unless we can agree on some reasonable definition of project success, we can never really advance our profession in any consistent manner. If anything we do can be deemed a success or failure in some arbitrary fashion, then we are all on very dangerous ground.
  2. We have no way of truly articulating the value we provide to our organizations. Unless we are perceived as practitioners of a well considered craft implementing a repeatable methodology that can deliver measurable success, we are all just glorified note takers with above-average Microsoft Office skills. This again is a very dangerous position to be in.
  3. It is flat out nuts not to measure project success consistently across our organizations. Imagine for a moment if the Medical profession were organized like we are. Every doctor would be able to declare victory regardless of whether their patients actually felt better or not.  Worse yet, any patient would be free to call any doctor a quack and make it stick because they could just arbitrarily define “cured” as it related to their medical condition. We would all be outraged and demand that something be done to fix this affront to common sense immediately. Yet we have no qualms about accepting it in our own line of work quite cheerfully.

In subsequent posts, I will explore the reasons why we find ourselves in this predicament and what we can do to get out of this mess.


What is your experience measuring project success? Tell us in the comment section below, then check out some of Seilevel’s successes.

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