Meaning of project success

Different stakeholders perceive project success differently. For a typical customer, that receives the project’s product, project success will often mean that the project addresses the project and product scope and is able to fulfill stated and unstated needs. Most customers will also expect that the project is delivered within the approved schedule and budget, while accommodating valuable changes. For a typical supplier, that delivers the project’s product, project success can mean delivering the project within budget and returning a profit, while still being able to please the customer. Most suppliers will also value other criteria such as maintaining an acceptable team work load and protecting the organization’s image. To management, that establishes direction and provides resources, project success will often mean that the project is able to fulfil a vision, adding value to the organization and delivering sustainable products.

One of the key challenges of the project management profession has always been to define project success in a way that is compatible with these different perspectives. Modern project management defines success as meeting project formally approved objectives and delivering acceptable value to stakeholders. Project managers must ensure that stated and unstated needs are translated into specific scope, schedule, cost and quality objectives, defined in a consistent, feasible and verifiable manner. Throughout the project, the project manager should maintain the project aligned with its objectives, through corrective and preventive actions. When applicable, objectives can be revised through integrated change management. Yet, defining and meeting project objectives is not sufficient. During planning, the project manager should ensure that the objectives are delivering value to project stakeholders. Throughout the project, change management enables the project to align to value, while still protecting the feasibility of the project objectives. See exhibit 1, where the circles represent customer value and supplier value.






Exhibit1- Project success and project trouble

Meaning of project failure

There is always a limit beyond which a schedule variance, a cost overrun, or a scope gap, are no longer acceptable to project stakeholders. Projects fail when they hit a threshold, where unfavourable variances are both unacceptable and unrecoverable. Stakeholder’s perception of what is an acceptable variance is strongly influenced by how expectations were managed, how frequently and proactively the customer was involved and how healthy are the project’s communication and interactions.






Exhibit2- Project failure

Understanding troubled projects

Project success is about delivering acceptable value to project stakeholders. Therefore, a project is in trouble when accumulated variances are endangering the value delivered to one or more project stakeholders.


Henrique Moura  PMP, RMP, ACP, EVP, Prince2

Invited Professor in the Master in Project Management Program

at the University for International Cooperation.