One of the first questions a project manager should ask is “what does success look like?”

How does your organisation define project “success”? All projects within a business are initiated to deliver a change resulting in a desired outcome. Project sponsors become accountable to ensure that the outcome is met and therefore typically are the people most vested in obtaining successful delivery.

Project managers are responsible for delivering the project that produces the desired outcome. The very first question of any project manager to a project sponsor then should be: “What does success look like?”

Create a statement of purpose

What success looks like for the sponsor should be documented into simple, measurable outcomes that ultimately become the flag on the hill for a project management team. It also provides the baseline to measure scope change requests against for example, if the change does not have a positive impact or prevent degradation on success then it should not be approved.

Project Success should then be described in terms in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Without getting into too many acronyms these KPIs need to be S.M.A.R.T. i.e.: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reliable and Timely. This then allows clear metrics to track and report project success.

Defining success means aligning to the same outcome

Projects get off-track very quickly when the definition of what success looks like is ambiguous across the stakeholder community. Too often we see projects where “what constitutes success” is varied:

  • Project is completed on time and on budget to quality standards (project manager definition)
  • Project provides new technology to the organisation (technology lead)
  • Project removes headcount (finance lead)

The impact of a team out of alignment on the definition of success can be seen in volatility, confusion and disharmony across the project and governance group and also the wider stakeholder community.

The effective method to help resolve any disharmony or confusion is to ensure there is consistent alignment between the steering committee and the team toward the same project outcome.

An extension of the concept of success is benefits realisation. In most cases benefits realisation completes after the project. So what responsibilities does the Project Manager have regarding benefits realisation?

Benefits realisation at the project and program level

Surely delivering the scope on time and budget to quality standards is success for the project manager? Are any subsequent activities to realise benefits after project delivery part of the PMs remit?

We would argue the Project Manager has a fiduciary duty to the Sponsor to ensure that the activities and structures to realise the benefits are in place to deliver the desired outcomes.

Benefit realisation is less problematic at the project level as the benefits are more self-contained and the PM is closer to them to have an influence. Where a program is running with multiple technology and business projects, the benefits are normally carried at the program level and as a result benefits realisation becomes even further removed from the project and less of a focus for the Project Manager.

In these instances the focus of the technology projects is normally implementing the technology solution whilst the business projects are managing the change.

So in this case is it fair to state that time, cost and quality achievements are sufficient to measure project success for the technology PM? There is no easy answer here however there is a way of getting there.

Projects should stand on their own in the context of program benefits

Our view is that each project should stand on its own and deliver benefits. In the context of a program, the benefits for the program are achieved through its component projects. If your project has clearly defined outcomes (benefits) then this can be documented and measures of success derived.

In many cases the technology projects are reliant on the business change to enable the outcomes to be realised. Whilst the change management activities may not be in scope of the project they are a critical dependency on the project achieving its outcomes and it therefore goes without saying the technology project manager needs to have a view into these activities and track and report progress.

There is no point in delivering the world’s best solution if the business is not ready to adopt it – this approach results in very expensive shelf ware and often deterioration in the relationship between the business and IT.

Success is the flag on the hill

We believe each project should have statement of success, owned by the Sponsor, documented into SMART measures, which are then delivered and monitored by the project manager.

Success is the flag on the hill that the project should be led to in order to create alignment across a diverse stakeholder community. Where the project itself is dependent upon outside activity to enable the benefits to be realised, the Project Manager must monitor and report against those activities in the context of their project achieving success.

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Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...