I’ve written quite a bit about project success, who determines it, and what some of those determining factors are.  I’ve usually considered it a more cut and dried notion – with the real final determiner being customer satisfaction.  In this article, I’ll look at it from a different angle – taking into consideration secondary factors that may mean the overall project can be considered somewhat of a ‘success’ even it misses the mark on the usual primary success factors.

Historically, success has been defined as meeting the customer’s expectations, regardless of whether “the customer” was internal or external. Furthermore, success has also meant getting the job done within the constraints of time, cost, and quality as usually tracked in a powerful project software tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer. Using this standard definition, success could be visualized as a singular point on a time, cost, quality/performance grid. But how many projects, especially those requiring innovation, can possibly reach this exact point?

Very few projects are ever completed without tradeoffs or scope changes on time, cost, and quality. Therefore, success might still occur without exactly hitting this singular point. In this regard, success might be better defined as a cube.  The singular point of time, cost, and quality would be a point within the cube.

Another factor to consider is that there may exist both primary and secondary definitions of success (see the list of examples of primary success factors and potential secondary success factors below).

Primary Success Factors

Primary Success Factors

- Within time

- Within cost

- Within quality limits

- Accepted by the customer

Secondary Success Factors

Secondary Succes Factors

- Follow-on work from this customer

- Using the customer’s name as a reference in your literature

- With minimum or mutually agreed upon scope changes

- Without disturbing the main flow of work

- Without changing the corporate culture

- Without violating safety requirements

- Providing efficiency and effectiveness of operations

- Satisfying OSHA/EPA requirements

- Maintaining ethical conduct

- Providing a strategic alignment

- Maintaining a corporate reputation

- Maintaining regulatory agency relations

The primary definitions of success are seen through the eyes of the customer. The secondary definitions of success are usually internal benefits. If achieving 86% of the specification is acceptable to the customer and follow-on work is received, then the original project might very well be considered as a success. It is possible for a project management methodology to identify primary and secondary success factors. This could provide guidance to a project manager for the development of a risk management plan, as well as help the project manager decide which risks are worth taking and which are not acceptable. Information for this article was derived, in part, from Kertzner’s book entitled, “Strategic Planning for Project Management…”