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Differentiating Between Project Success and Project Management Success
By Satya Narayan Dash

How will you know whether the project is a success or a failure? Will you consider a project to be a success if it meets its primary objectives? Will you consider the project to be a failure if the customer is unhappy, though you have delivered it on time, within cost and strictly followed the scope? Or will you consider the project to be a success if all the stakeholders are happy with the outcome, although it went beyond the estimated cost, schedule and scope?

Let us take some of the examples. Here, I am focusing on two constraints, which are “Schedule” and “Cost”. Of course, we have other factors, most notably being scope, and others like quality, risk, and customer satisfaction. However, below are some of the world famous projects and we can safely assume that their initial estimation of scope, schedule and cost were well defined.

Case – 1: Titanic Project

The epic movie by James Cameron based on the true incident of RMS Titanic sinking with love story of a rich girl and poor boy.

Schedule: It was over schedule. It started on 1995 expected to be released by mid 1997. However it was released late 1997 / early 1998.
Cost: It was over budget. The cost was USD $200 million, which was well above the initial estimate.
Final Report: The movie has been the highest grossing film world-wide with revenues of USD $1.8 billion.

Will Titanic Project be a failure as it was over schedule and over budget?

Case – 2: Iridium Project

A system of 66 active communication satellites with spares in orbit and on the ground. It allows worldwide voice and data communications using hand-held satellite phones. It was considered to be a dream project for Motorola.

Schedule: It was on schedule. It was completed on schedule, i.e., 11 years.
Budget: Budget was somewhat more than what was estimated. However, it was within limit. The budget was around USD $6 billion.
Final Report: The project went bankrupt within a year of its launch of its service and filed for Chapter 11 of bankruptcy.

Again, the question becomes: will Iridium Project be considered a success as it was on schedule and on budget?

Case – 3: Concorde Project

The primary objective of this project was the integration between Air France and BOAC.

Schedule: It was over Schedule. It took 7 years to complete.
Budget: It was over Budget. It took close to USD $3 billion and well over budget.
Final Report: Both Government of England and France were happy as it combined Air France and BOAC.

Was Concorde Project a success as it met its primary objective?

Wrapping it up, we all know that:

  • Titanic is considered to be a success though it was over budget and over schedule.
  • Iridium is considered to be a failure though it was completed on time.
  • Concorde is considered to be a success though it was over budget and over schedule.

This brings up the differentiation between Project Success and Project Management Success. They are actually entirely two different concepts, which is normally misunderstood.

Typically a project is considered to be a success when:

  • It has delivered on promised scope.
  • It is within the schedule for the project.
  • The cost for project does not go way beyond the estimate.
  • It has managed its stakeholder’s expectation well and the most important stakeholder, i.e. customers.
  • It is of good quality.

However, it is not actually the success of the Project; rather it is the success of the Project Management, if it meets the aforementioned criteria. Proper form of project management, i.e., delivering the project within the triple constraints of time, cost and scope can make the management process a success; however, the project need not be a success. Rather projects as shown by Titanic and Concorde are considered to be successful depending on the return on monetary investment.

This makes the role of a project manager more difficult. To address it, organization while starting a project, should primarily address three things:

  1. Define target success for the project and the project manager
  2. Define target success for the organization considering the project involved
  3. Define failure for the project and the project manager

Satya Narayan Dash is the Principal Consultant and Founder of Teleox® Consulting, Bangalore, India. Prior to that, he was Project Leader with Wipro® Technologies and a Project Leader with AdventNet®, Inc. He has rich experience of 8+ years in product development, and architecture in Java® and J2EE® based Telecom solutions. As a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) from Project Management Institute (PMI®) and MS Project 2007®, he has trained hundreds of project managers and consultants. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, India. He can be contacted at email:

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