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How Can Project Success Be Measured?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 7/13/2013

When a company applies for a working capital loan, often the owner is asked not only how the money will be used, but also how the company’s business success will be measured. The same is true in project management--so how can project success be measured?

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    Measuring Success Is Different for Everyone

    Folding Rules Wikimedia Commons Success is a big word and it can mean many different things to many different people. If you’ve completed your tasks for the day and your desk is clear, that’s most likely success to you.

    If you’re a house builder and you put that final nail on the roof, the finished new house is your success. If you’re a sales person and your sales goal was to sell 50 items in one month and you sell 52, you probably feel successful.

    Those are easy ways to measure success, but how can project success be measured?

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    Success, Quantity and Quality

    In the early days of project management, project success meant finishing a project on time, under budget, and meeting the objectives. Not so today, especially with so many project management methodologies to choose from.

    William R. Duncan of Project Management Partners says of measuring project management success, “We should not be asking was your project a success, but instead, how successful was your project?”

    Exploring the question of how can project success be measured is answered all over the Internet by experts in the field offering the latest and most innovative ways to do it, but are these experts right?

    Some experts say using earned value management (EVM) that analyzes scope, cost, and schedule throughout the project’s lifecycle is the best method. Others say a balanced scorecard will offer project’s measurement of success.

    What if you never utilized EVM or don’t know what a balanced scorecard is? How can you measure success?

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    Measuring Success Uniquely

    Almostequal Wikimedia Commons No matter what business you’re in, there are projects to be tackled. Projects have set goals with assigned tasks based on the desired outcome. Just finishing a project, however, doesn’t always measure success. Finishing over budget doesn’t mean you failed either. Changing goals midstream won’t mean your project won’t be successful. What are some unique ways to measure a project?

    • Project Scenarios – Whether you run a project through on paper or use a software scenario solution, this is one way to tell if the project will be successful first while identifying problems along the way. This is often great for new project managers.
    • Surveys – The auto industry utilizes surveys—perhaps too much. Surveys are snail-mailed and emailed with an adequate amount of questions asked to see if a customer was happy with their sales, parts, or service experience at a dealership. Surveys to every stakeholder in a project is one way to measure how successful a project turned out. What’s even more exciting these days is that some auto manufacturers are using the Six Sigma process to further breakdown survey answers and quickly implement change.
    • SWOT Analysis – Often conducting a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) is a good idea on measuring project success. Take every element of the project and use a good SWOT analysis plan to see what worked and what didn’t.
    • Dr. Livingston I Presume? – When Henry Stanley asked this question way back in 1871, indeed it was an identifier method—straightforward and concise. Do you ask concise and measurable questions throughout your project’s lifecycle? Do you give everyone on the team a chance to ask questions and offer suggestions? If you run projects robotically, that’s hard on everyone involved. Have good communication plans that will help you measure success.
    • Measurement Methods – There are various methods to best determine how project success can be measured. You can measure a project outcome by the scope, its baseline, individual goals, and end-user opinions.

    There are many ways to measure a project’s success or failure, from expert advice to being innovative on your own. Choose different measurement methods on each project to see which one defines your success best.