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The Project Management Definitions of Success and Failure

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 7/11/2013

Are you familiar with how project managers define success and failure of a project? What elements must exist for a project to be considered truly a success? Learn what the definitions of success and failure are for project managers in this Bright Hub PM article.

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    Three Ways Projects End

    When you undertake a new project, there are many different situations governing that project. A few things will be standard for each project you undertake.

    Every project will have a scope. Every project has project goals and objectives. All projects have a project schedule. Finally, all projects have a budget. With respect to these four conditions, there are three ways a project can come to completion:

    • Successfully - Meaning that the scope, goals, and objectives were met, the project was completed on time, and the project came in at or under budget
    • Challenged - Meaning that at least one of the four conditions was not met - either the project was over budget, or it took longer than expected, or the scope, goals, and objectives were somehow compromised.
    • Failed - A failed project is one that was either given up on or canceled.

    There are characteristics for each of these types of projects, in features present. Read on to find out what characteristics are present in successful, challenged, and failed projects.

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    The Bad News - Failed Project Characteristics

    Starting with the "bad news" first, there are ten primary factors that are found in failed projects. These characteristics include:

    1. The requirements list was incomplete.
    2. The stakeholders were not involved.
    3. There weren't enough resources to complete the project.
    4. The expectations for what could reasonably be created during the project were too high.
    5. The support from above wasn't strong enough.
    6. The requirements for the project kept changing.
    7. The project wasn't well planned.
    8. There was no longer a need for the project.
    9. There wasn't enough management involved.
    10. Those involved did not have the skills required to complete the project.

    Often, these items are easily correctable or avoided with a little foresight. Make sure that you take the time to properly plan your project to avoid finding any of these characteristics during your project's execution.

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    Not Much Better News...Challenged Projects

    Recall that challenged projects are those that are completed, but did not go exactly as planned. While challenged projects share some characteristics with failed projects, they are distinct enough to require their own category. Here are five characteristics inherent in projects that were challenged at completion.

    1. Stakeholder involvement was low or non-existent.
    2. Objectives and goals were not clearly stated.
    3. Objectives, goals, and scope kept changing.
    4. The management was not supportive of the project.
    5. The team lacked the technical know-how.

    As you can see, these five items are also mirrored in the failed project characteristics. It is vital that you keep your stakeholders involved during the project process. Likewise, make sure your team members have received adequate training. Finally, keep your scope statement from expanding, be absolutely clear about your objectives, and ensure the commitment of all involved to the completion of a successful project.

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    Now for the Sunshine: Successful Project Characteristics

    It would make sense that successful objects have characteristics that are opposite of those held by challenged and failed projects, but what exactly are those characteristics? Here are the top five:

    1. Stakeholders and end-users are involved with the project process.
    2. Management is committed strongly to the project and is involved with the project.
    3. The scope, goals, and objectives of the project are clearly stated, outlined, and have a clear action plan.
    4. The team and project manager have taken the time to carefully plan the project.
    5. The team and stakeholders have expectations that reflect reality.

    There you have it--a simple way to define success and failure of a project in project management. By implementing characteristics of successful projects, you can avoid the pain and cost of failed projects.

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