Project Practitioners > How Should We Measure Success?

How Should We Measure Success?

By Margaret de Haan


Obviously if you ask any of us the above question, the rote answer is “A Project that is delivered within scope, on time and within budget”.  But really, it isn’t that easy, is it?  That definition, as with everything, depends on the perspective of what your team and your Project Sponsor defines as "within scope” and “on time”.  I have struggled with this since starting out as a Project Manager, and I have found that that possibility of misalignment in the perception of those particular Project components is most likely rooted in the corporate culture, and the level of maturity that the organization has regarding the SDLC and Project Management.

How many times have we heard “that’s not the date you gave us”?  Even after progressing through the change request process and gaining acceptance to the additional scope and budget, some individuals in the organization may refuse to process that the timeline has to change in direct relation to the amount of work!  So, regardless, the initial date becomes hard and inflexible and then the only possible outcome is considered late, and therefore is a failure.  Sometimes individuals choose to have selective hearing in my experience, so what can we do?  Well, it’s no secret that communication is key to succeeding through the change process, and what is critical is that as Project Managers we gain advocates within the organization to champion our process.  The higher up in the organization those advocates are, the better off we, and the organization are as a whole.  The only way that we will be able to move our organizations along the path of maturity in terms of the “rules” of the balance between scope, time and budget is to stick to our guns and continue to communicate the message of the balance of the triad, and the impacts of change.

For those with the time and immediate management support, creating an internal training program on the basics of Project Management goes a long way to gain more advocates within the corporate divisions that are involved in your projects.  To have this make the maximum impact, I suggest gaining the support of not only your management right up to the top, but from HR as well, as HR management loves to champion educational programs, and if your management supports you it’s a win/win for everyone involved.  Take the time to create a slideshow that lasts between a half and three-quarters of an hour and leave enough time for questions afterward.  With the commitment for the general population being limited to an hour’s time it will be an easy sell.  I can almost hear some of you reading this saying “educating the organization isn’t part of my job, and shouldn’t be my responsibility” but I disagree.  I think anything that assists your organization at executing more successful Projects IS part of your job.  If you are in this situation and you are in the minority of those that understand and embrace the concepts of Project Management you only have a few options, either you choose to live with the situation until it (might?) change, proactively try to do something about it, or you can move on. Regardless we have to communicate both inside and outside of the Project team as to our progress and challenges, and in doing so, cover our Project Management butts.

I have struggled with defining my success as a Project Manager, and trying to understand the root of misalignment between some organization’s definition of a successful Project and mine.  For those of us that have been members of a high performing team within a mature PMO, nothing less feels like winning.  There are some organizations that insist in dictating the delivery date while continuing to add scope (failure), those that allow no flexibility in making any changes whatsoever to the Project once it has started (failure), and those that regardless of the quality of output are willing to celebrate, even if those members of the team feel as though the organization put lipstick on a pig (failure).  Not everything can be perfect, and there will always be a few naysayers out there even if everything goes right, but I see the bottom line being how we feel about the success of our Projects.  I want not just the organization, but the Project team feeling as though what was produced and rolled out at the end of the Project to be not only what it needs to be to meet the need, but to be of a quality that we all can be proud of.  That to me is what defines success.

So if you don’t have that environment, then work at transforming what you have to be closer to the ideal.  Start finding and growing your network of advocates, and start communicating and training the organization so that everyone at the very least understands the tradeoffs required to be good team members, and be accountable for decisions that impact not only their business units, but the Project as a whole.  Do that, and you will be working towards a Project Management utopia, as if everyone in the organization is aligned and has the same definition of success, you have a much better chance of achievement than if you don’t.   If you do have that appreciate it, but the truth is that I think that there is so much more that we as Project Managers can do to add to the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the Project Management discipline as a whole in our organizations.  Either actively engage in creating a part of your organization’s future, or don’t complain when it doesn’t grow to your expectations.


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