If so, you’re not alone!
Many projects fail in the eyes of the stakeholders because the project’s success criteria weren’t clearly articulated which means that ‘their’ view of what makes the project a success is different from ‘your’ view. To avoid the perception of failure, everyone needs to hold the same image of what project success means.
As a project manager it is your job to elicit the success criteria and to get consensus between the sponsor and stakeholders as to what their relative priority is. The relative priority is important as you are likely to have to make tradeoffs as the project progresses. And bear in mind, that sometimes your stakeholders may not be fully aware of what project success means to them and how they would measure it. It is your job is to heighten their awareness and help them find that out!
When judging if a project was successful or not, we firstly look at whether the stated goals and objectives were met, and whether the project was delivered within the agreed parameters. Which business benefits and products were the project supposed to deliver and to which quality? What was the agreed end date (if any) and which constraints existed around the budget? These are all examples of a project’s success criteria.
But other factors than time, cost and quality may matter to your project’s success; for instance how the project was delivered and how it arrived at its end goal. Imagine a project which delivered real benefits on time, but which was executed in a haphazard way with poor communication and lots of disputes. Would your stakeholders perceive that as successful?
“To uncover the things that really matter to how your project will be judged, ask each of your stakeholders what would make them perceive the project as a success. Some people may give you a textbook answer, so challenge their response and dig deeper.”
Remember, that ultimately the success of your project will be measured by whether your sponsor and stakeholders feel they got the benefits they wanted in a way which they expected. So to avoid the perception of failure, not only do you need to clearly define the objectively stated criteria; you also need to turn any subjective feelings and statements into quantifiable and measurable conditions. Only then do you truly know what is expected of you.
When stakeholders judge if your project was a success or not, it is not always a straightforward or logical matter. You may have delivered a great project, but if the project sponsors, stakeholders or users somehow think your project has failed; then it has. So, spend time with your stakeholders and understand what matters to them. Feel what they feel and see what they see, and do your best to honour their expectations.
When analysing the success criteria, make sure they relate back to the project's purposes and that they are as specific and measurable as possible. That will make it easier for you to deliver against them.
Also ensure you highlight the assumptions which these criteria are based upon. For example; in order to deliver a certain product at a certain time and cost, imagine that you have agreed with your customer that they will provide you with specific resources to do so. If these resources are not provided in line with what was agreed, you need to raise it as an issue with your steering committee in order that your boundaries (and acceptance criteria) can be adjusted to cater for this change. Always communicate these assumptions and constraints to the steering committee as it will help them appreciate the complexities of the project and the challenges of your role.
And finally; make sure everyone knows about all the good stuff you are actually delivering. Promote your project and celebrate and communicate every little success. Don’t let false modesty deter you as that could give people the impression that you are not delivering anything.
· What are your project's top 5 success criteria according to your sponsor?
· How confident are you, that these are the only criteria your project will be judged against?
· What are you doing to guard yourself against the perception of failure?