We often hear or read about various success stories. But what is success and what criteria should organizations use to identify success? What factors lead to a successful project? The purpose of this article is to define project success criteria, clarify their difference with success factors and analyse their importance in project management methodology.
One of the vaguest concepts of project management is project success. Since each individual or group of people who are involved in a project have different needs and expectations, it is very unsurprising that they interpret project success in their own way of understanding (Cleland & Ireland, 2004, p2). “For those involved with a project, project success is normally thought of as the achievement of some pre-determined project goals” (Lim & Mohamed, 1999, p244) while the general public has different views, discoveryconsulting commonly based on user satisfaction. A classic example of different perspective of successful project is the Sydney Opera House project (Thomsett, 2002), which went 16 times over budget and took 4 times more to finish than originally planned. But the final impact that the Opera House created was so big that no one remembers the original missed goals. The project was a big success for the people and at the same time a big failure from the project management perspective. On the other hand, the Millennium Dome in London was a project on time and on budget but in the eyes of the British people was considered a failure because it didn’t deliver the awe and glamour that it was supposed to generate (Cammack, 2005). “In the same way that quality requires both conformance to the specifications and fitness for use, project success requires a combination of product success (service, result, or outcome) and project management success” (Duncan, 2004).
The difference between criteria and factors is fuzzy for many people. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary describes a criterion as “a standard by which you judge, decide about or deal with something” while a factor is explained as “a fact or situation which influences the result of something”. Lim & Mohamed applied those definitions to project success and illustrated the difference as show in Figure 1. It is clear now that critical factors can lead to a series of events which ultimately meet the overall success criteria of the project, so they shouldn’t be used as synonymous terms.
Many lists of success criteria have been introduced in the previous decades by various researchers. Primal success criteria have been an integrated part of project management theory given that early definitions of project management included the so called ‘Iron Triangle’ success criteria – cost, time and quality. (Atkinson, 1999, p338)
Atkinson continues that “as a discipline, project management has not really changed or developed the success measurement criteria in almost 50 years”. To meet the urgent need of modernizing the out of date success criteria, he suggest the ‘Square Route’ (figure 3) success criteria instead of the ‘Iron Triangle’, where he groups the criteria that other academics have proposed. The main change is the addition of qualitative objectives rather than quantitative, namely the benefits that different group of people can receive from the project. These benefits are seen from two perspectives, one from the organisational view and one from the stakeholders view. It is obvious that each part will have benefit differently from projects. For example one organisation can gain profit through achieving strategic goals when a project is completed and at the same time these goals have a serious environmental impact in the stakeholders’ community. This means that a successful project must bargain between the benefits of the organisation and the satisfaction of end users. The fourth corner of the ‘Square Root’ is the Information System which includes the subjects of maintainability, reliability and validity of project outcomes.