Clearly Define Success

Project Management

What defines project success?  There have been many projects completed on time and under budget that have not been successful.  There have also been projects that did not meet schedule or budget requirements that were considered very successful.  So how can a team determine if they are achieving success on their current project?

We believe that project success is tied to one key, major principle - customer satisfaction.  At the outset of most projects, teams may have a good idea of their capabilities.  However, as the team members look across the oceans of uncertainty that separate their performance from customer satisfaction, their vision of success may be a little blurred.

(When we use the term customer here, we are referring not only to those external to the organization, but also to customers within the organization.  Projects are run for internal clients as often as they are for external clients.)

It is here that a good project manager begins adding a little color to the project by building the “Project Performance Bridge.”  The first section of the bridge is entitled “Clearly Define Success,” as shown on the next page in Figure 4-3.

Project managers can assist the team in clearly defining success in two ways.  First, they must create a project vision.  Second, they must prioritize Project Success Parameters (PSP).

We have already discussed the importance of over all vision at length.  However, it is critical that each project has its own project specific vision.  This vision should provide a convergence of need with possibility.  It should afford team members a clear picture of the desired outcomes that will, in the end, satisfy the customer.

One stakeholder group with which we associated created this vision statement for their project:

“We are a unified, dedicated, high-performance team, committed to providing a quality and timely installation of an emergency generator system that meets EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and JCAHO (Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospital Organizations) regulatory standards and timelines, while maintaining uninterrupted health care at the hospital.”

Prior to going through an exercise to create this vision statement, many of the team members did not understand the importance of meeting the EPA and JCAHO regulatory standards and timelines.  The discussion that occurred helped the team understand that if they did not meet a specific EPA timeline, they would have to purchase entirely new generators and redesign the entire project around these new generators.  If they did not meet the JCAHO timeline, the hospital would risk losing accreditation.  This made it absolutely clear to them that these standards and timelines were positively the most important elements for achieving customer satisfaction on this project.

Creating a project specific vision was therefore a critical first step to clearly defining success and building the “Project Performance Bridge.”

Customer satisfaction is always the objective of any project.  As discussed, we believe that a project team cannot satisfy the customer unless they first build this critical portion of the “Project Performance Bridge” by “Clearly Defining Success” as early in the project as possible.

Dr. Denis Petersen is co-author of the book “Project Management Paradigms”, and founding partner with Milestone Management Consultants, LLC.

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