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The Importance of Success Criteria in Project Management
By Michelle Symonds

Defining, analyzing and recognizing the importance of success criteria is fundamental to achieving success in any project, whatever its size or complexity and in a whole range of industries. Of course, many factors such as the team doing the work or external influences affect whether a final deliverable of a project is viewed as a success or failure, and some of these are beyond the control of those working on the project. But nevertheless success criteria must be documented for every project.

It is fairly obvious that success criteria should be defined for every project but it is surprising how many projects for which that is not the case. The people involved in a project often believe that well-documented business requirements obviate the need for specific success criteria and believe the requirements to be one and the same thing as the success criteria.

But take the example of a new software system – the requirements may be detailed and well-documented and the system may be designed and implemented to comply with the requirements. With a bit of effective project management thrown in for good measure it may even come in on time and on budget. Why then do so many new software systems fail to live up to expectations when they have delivered what was asked for in the requirements documentation?

The simple reason is that documented business requirements do not take the place of success criteria. Success criteria are (or should be) clearly documented separately based on the delivered benefits (tangible and intangible) and part of a project manager’s role is to ensure everyone affected by the project is aware of what these benefits are. Everyone involved should have input to the success criteria and all should agree on what they are and approve the list.

It is essential that the project manager and the project team understand what success means to both the stakeholders and the end-users of the new deliverable. It is important too that those same people can define what success means to them – if necessary with a little help from the project manager. If those involved in a project cannot say what they expect from the final outcome then that is a case of questioning what the project is for.

So in order to ensure that everyone is happy with the final deliverable it may require success to be viewed from different perspectives. A senior executive may view a project as successful if it comes in on budget but an end user is unlikely to be concerned with the budget and may only view it as successful if they can do their daily tasks more easily or more quickly than before.

Gone are the days when only budget, time, quality and scope were considered the classic measures of success. A broader project management framework now recognizes the importance of end user satisfaction; benefits to the company both tangible and intangible and current and future benefits also play a part in defining success. And the factors that influence that success include the project manager, the team, the organization, the type of project and a range of external influences outside the control of those involved.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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