You cannot track project success through orthodox project reporting, there are four critical areas that need to be tracked and measured to ensure the success of your project

Are you on track for success?

Projects go off track one degree at a time. You don’t have to be many degrees off-track to land in Paris when you were aiming for, say, London.

Minor project changes, omissions or deficiencies can cause your project to miss its mark and fail to deliver value. The statistics repeatedly confirm that around 40% of projects leave their organizations worse off than before they were attempted. That is a massive level of waste.

So, how do you ensure you are on track for success throughout the project’s duration?

1               Progress reporting

Most progress reporting misleads. It gives the impression of reporting progress without any level of certainty or ability to verify. Gantt charts are too often used to give the business the impression of control whether or not it exists.

There is only one, simple, true measure of success—the verified delivery of 100% complete project activity outputs to the required quality, to schedule.

  • Every activity should deliver a verifiable output—a new set of KPIs, an installed server, an implementation plan, or whatever.
  • Each output should be scheduled to be delivered as the project progresses.
  • As a result, each month there should be a list of outputs due to be 100% delivered that month.

If they all are delivered, then you’re on track to success. If they are not all delivered then your project is off the rails to some extent. It may just be a bit late, or it may be that the quality of the outputs is inadequate which is a greater worry.

Completion without quality is useless. Therefore, quality verification is critical to progress assessment. Every output needs to be (independently) assessed to ensure it is fully complete and to the quality required before it is claimed as ‘complete’.

NB The 90-90 rule: That 90% of the work takes 90% of the time but the other 10% takes the other 90% of the time. The last 10% of any task’s workload is the hardest part. 99% complete is 100% INcomplete!

2               Integrity control

Bit by bit, decision by decision, adjustment by adjustment the nature and purpose of a project can be lost (assuming it was ever really identified). Each decision can be very valid in and of itself, but cumulatively these decisions can destroy the value of the project.[1] The project may still look like it is delivering what was intended (at the macro level) but at the detail level the nuances that make the difference have been lost.

We recommend the compilation of a “Perpetual Report” that contains all the aspects of the project that should not change—the desired business outcomes, the benefits, the critical path, the three sets of success measures, the guiding principles, etc. Any changes to the contents of the “Perpetual Report” should only be made by the governance team, as these changes can alter the business value to be delivered (which they are accountable for).[2]

As long as the contents of the “Perpetual Report” are not changed the nature and purpose of the project will not have changed. If the contents have changed then the project may have changed, and the primary measures of success – the business outcomes, benefits and value to be delivered – can have changed. You then know the integrity of the project has been challenged and your likelihood of success has diminished.[3]

3               Health checks

Health checks are not compliance checks. If you are merely checking whether or not the project is filling in its documentation correctly, you may as well save your money.

Health checks are not project quality checks. If you are merely checking that the project is okay and there are no hidden problems, again you are wasting your money.

Health checks should establish whether or not the project is on track to deliver the desired business outcomes, benefits and value that were promised in the business case. If it isn’t, then it may need to be adjusted or stopped.

If the project is going great, but is not going to deliver the business value, then it is a waste of time and money.

Detailed, value-delivery focused health checks are more thorough than project or compliance checks, but their value is that they will identify all of the threats to your project’s success in business terms.

4               Managing the threats to success.

Risk management is integral to projects but there are two other types of threat management required that are too often neglected and cause unnecessary value loss.

Each governance team should identify their project’s “critical success factors” (CSFs)—the factors that need to go right or exist for the project to be totally successful that are outside the control of the project manager. Every deficient CSF reduces the value of the project investment.

Some CSFs are outside the control of the organization and you can only track and react—eg if interest rates turn against you. Others are within the organization’s control—eg ensuring key resources are available as and when required—and need to be managed by the governance team to ensure the project’s success and the full delivery of the available value.

The governance team also needs to track and monitor the “leading indicators of failure”. These are the indicators that the project is heading off the rails that will be visible long before the resultant problems are revealed in the orthodox project reporting.

For example, if project activities are missing their start dates the impact on the project’s delivery may not be seen for some time. Indeed, it may not be seen at all as quality or scope is sacrificed to maintain the project ‘on time’. But late starts is one of the leading indicators that something is wrong on the project and the potential value of the project is under threat requiring action NOW.[4]

In summary

These principal areas of control enable you to track project success. However, as many of you will know,

  1. Progress reporting is often indicative rather than definitive
  2. The integrity of the project is not managed allowing the slow, progressive loss of value
  3. Health checks are superficial or mis-focused
  4. No one knows what the CSFs are, let alone is managing them
  5. No one is tracking the leading indicators of failure.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that projects go off the rails and 40% leave their organizations worse off than before?

What controls do you have in place to ensure you know that your project is on track for success?


Notice that many of these controls are used by the Project Governance team - who need to firstly understand that they need these controls and that they are accountable for the project's success. 




[1]      An excellent example of this progressive value destruction if provided in the TOP ebook, “A tale of two projects”.

[2]      The nature and management of the Perpetual Report is covered in TOP’s Project Governance program

[3]      Occasionally, the changes can be for the good, increasing the net value to be delivered; but too often they diminish the business value realizable

[4]      Management of the Leading Indicators of Failure is an accountability of the project governance team and is covered in the TOP Project Governance program

Topics: Project Success

Further Reading



[1] ...

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Aug 2015) as "Four Principal Areas Of Control To Ensure Project Success"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections