How to define project success
When you’re planning a project, your immediate concern is understanding the goal. Your objective is to deliver successful results that satisfy your stakeholders.
Back in the day, that was achieved by producing a product on time, on or below budget, with a high level of quality. But the final result is no longer the single measure of the project’s success.
With the emphasis companies now place on engagement, it is important to involve your stakeholders in the project experience and to understand not only if the product functions properly, but how it impacts the organization and its priorities in other ways. New products and services mean change, which affects the way people work, the customer experience, a company’s culture and their reputation. All of this is on the minds of your client, and they want to know that you are working to that end. This is today’s expanded view of success criteria.
What are the Success Criteria?
Success criteria are the standards that stakeholders will use to determine if the project performed to their expectations. And they can be looked at during the project life-cycle and after project close. These aren’t based on just the budget or schedule, but on the way, the stakeholders – leadership, employees, and customers – are affected by what your project produces. You’ll be asking yourself if the project:
- Was accepted by the customer – Does the product or service meet the customer’s brief? Does it perform as expected?
- Align with the business case – Does the outcome meet the goals as stated in the business case? Was the project planned with the customer’s priorities in mind?
- Contribute to the organization workflows – Have new efficiencies or workarounds been created that will have a positive impact on performance?
- Meet (or not disrupt) the organization’s culture – Will new processes affect the way team members interact with each other or customers, or change the public perception of the company?
- Advances the technology used by the organization
- Does not damage the current processes in the organization – Does the outcome improve or at least not change how things work today?
- Was easily adopted by the customers – Have tools and support been put in place to make change easy on customers, and does it improve their experience?
See, it’s about the customer having a good experience, while the project was in flight and once the new product or service is running. If you want your projects to be considered successful you have to take these factors into account and turn them into real, measurable criteria.
Formalize Your Success Criteria
When you’re establishing success criteria, you need to measure two things – how the project is being managed, and what the project has delivered. When you create targets for these two areas you can track your progress and also check in with your stakeholders to keep them aware and engaged. Document your criteria in the two categories and state them formally with clearly defined targets:
Project Management Success Criteria
When you measure project performance, you’re showing how well the project itself is being managed. You’ll establish the activities that will keep everything on track. The success criteria will look like this:
- Hold weekly project team update meetings
- Conduct one-on-one tracking meetings with each team lead
- Conduct a monthly detailed budget review
- Ensure all milestones attain stakeholder sign-off
Project Delivery Success Criteria
Now you need to measure what the project produces, and if it’s meeting the stakeholders’ needs. For example – your project is the development of a new customer service tool. The priorities stated in the business case include the performance of the customer service department and creating a new customer-centric culture across the organization. What success factors do you get from that? Here are some ideas:
- Approve Change Management & Communications Plans by 8/15/2020
- Deliver training to entire Customer Service Organization by 10/30/2020
- Improve call completion time by 20% over first-month post rollout
- Improve customer satisfaction survey results by 10 points within three months
These success factors will tell your stakeholders that not only are you focused on producing a quality product, but that you also understand the greater goals and objectives of the organization.
Documenting & Measuring Success
After you establish the success criteria, you have to track and measure it. Create a document that looks at how each one will be measured. Use a spreadsheet or your project management tool to capture details like:
Criteria Name – Formally name the criteria, such as ‘Improved Customer Satisfaction Scores’.
Measurement Method – Document the tool or process that will be used to determine if the target is being met, such as tracking budget meetings or software testing. Make sure you include the frequency of measurement, such as weekly or monthly budget reviews.
Responsible Party – Name the person that should be measuring that target throughout the project lifecycle. On your project, the PM should be tracking contractor hours, but the Business Analyst can track software testing. Whoever it is, they need to conduct regular measures, document outcomes and report back to the PM or stakeholders.
Desired Outcomes – The actual targeted results, like reduce customer cancellations by 20%.
Issues & Resolutions – If it is found that the project is falling short of the target, what issues have been identified and how were they resolved? This may be kept in a separate issue resolution tracker, but they should be tied to the information you have documented here.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
You want to make sure that you give your project every chance at success. Here are some things that will make a big difference:
Establish a baseline – The baseline measure tells you how the areas of the business that your product will impact are performing today. You’ll make your comparison against this data, so be sure to use the same measurement tools for baselining and measuring. If your goal is to improve call answer times, you need to know how long it takes Representatives to answer the phone now, so you know what you’re trying to achieve.
Get stakeholder buy-in and sign-off – With well-defined targets and a baseline to perform against, you can engage your stakeholders, keep them updated, justify requests and get their support when you need it. Ask for sign-off to have a history of positive results that stakeholders can see.
Use continuous measurements – Improvements take time, so setting a very rigid set of criteria may not allow time for the new product or service to show any real impact. Set targets with a range – like improving performance by 25 to 35 percent over three months – to give yourself some room to grow.
Success Criteria Post Project
Once the project closes, your team will no longer be responsible for tracking the performance of the product, so be sure you build the same measurement process into the handoff activities. New criteria should be established, to set goals for continuous improvement and measurable success.