How to Know What Project Success Looks Like

In the early phases of a project, the team members, stakeholders and sponsors are all focused on the work ahead – they are gathering requirements, setting up a business case or getting familiar with the product that will be central to the project. One of the items that doesn’t get much attention during this initiation phase is project success criteria, or said differently, what dictates project success.

This is an innocent omission by most accounts – there should be plenty of time to capture success criteria. However, more often than not, project teams and project managers alike forget to factor capturing and verifying success criteria back into the mix. Typically, if this gap is caught, it’s caught right toward the start of implementation. By harmlessly forgetting this critical step, there can be all sorts of negative karma that can overshadow an otherwise successful project deployment. One of Covey’s Seven Habits says to, “Begin with the end in mind”; that is precisely what you must work to get during the start of the project.

How do you know what project success looks like? First you will need to set project goals in the Statement of Work. These goals should follow the standard S.M.A.R.T framework of goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound) and need to be set in the future (the Finance organization saves $20k a quarter through efficiencies in operating practices within 2 quarters after implementation). Second, after your general requirements are laid out, bring your team leadership together for a discussion about success criteria.

This discussion will require you to keep a strategic vision of the end goal – to emerge with your team united behind a success “picture” that is tangible, measurable and deals with not only the financial and efficiencies details, but talks about how the intangible benefits helps your customer. Something as simple as a form not looking just right or a report being accurate to specs but not usable is enough to drive your customer’s opinion of success toward a negative bias.

Once you’ve facilitated the discussion and get success criteria, make certain to revisit these factors often and update them if something changes or someone finds a success factor that was missed. If you take proactive action to make success criteria a focal point, you will never regret taking the time to construct and paint the image of success for your project. Without that image, you can liken your challenge to putting a puzzle together without the picture on the box.

Leave a Reply