There are three sets of success measures applicable to every project, but two are rarely found, targeted or delivered

The TOP Success Triangle

Delivery of a project is not the only measure of success that has to be met. There are three different but complementary measures of success — and all three must be met for a project to be deemed fully successful. This triangle of success measures can be illustrated as follows:

Success Triangle

Project measures

The Project team’s measures of success relate to the successful delivery of its agreed business outcomes, benefits and value within the time, cost and resource constraints defined.

Too often project managers want to be only measured on ‘on time/budget and to specification’ measures. This is inadequate. Projects don’t exist to just be delivered, they exist to deliver outcomes that in turn deliver benefits and value. While some of the business value will be realized after the project has finished, there is always some value that can be realized as part of the project’s activities and outcomes.

Therefore, ‘on time/budget and to specification’ become the constraint measures on the project, not its success measures, per se. Success should be measured in terms of the project’s delivery of the level of outcomes, benefits and value specified for the project.

But, even this will not be sufficient to be considered a ‘success’ without the other two sets of measures.

Business measures

The Business’ measures of success often relate to the project’s impacts on business-as-usual and operational performance. Are the new roles meaningful? Do the staff have a career path? Is the workload too onerous? Was the transition too disjointed and mismanaged causing a loss in productivity?

Business management are concerned with the ongoing delivery of their business processes, outputs and KPIs. Projects should improve these but can, if the business's detailed operational requirements are not considered, reduce the business’ ability to perform and deliver. This is what the business is watching for and is wary of.

Therefore, to be considered a ‘success’ in business terms, the project must deliver outcomes that improve operational performance on all dimensions. This is an aspect of project planning that is rarely considered. “What will life be like after this project has been implemented?” It is often useful to develop indicative “days in the life of …” scenarios to focus the project team on the detailed aspects of the “life” they are creating.

Governance measures

The Governance team’s measures of success revolve around the delivery and realization of the project investment's value — the reason why the project was commissioned. If the project does not improve the organization in some measurable way, then it is a failure. Realizing the expected business outcomes, benefits and value in full and delivering the expected return on investment are the key governance measures of success.

This entails taking the project’s outcomes and then working with the business to subsequently deliver the final business outcomes and all of their associated benefits and value. So the governance team’s measures of success go beyond the project into the post-project timeframe when many of the benefits will be realized in the business.

All three sets of measures are relevant

Hence ‘the success triangle’ — and the need for every project investment to meet all three sets of ‘success measures’  to be deemed fully successful. However, when we review most projects only a subset of the project measures of success have usually been defined. This is not good enough — all three measures of success are required.

Do you know all of the components of your three sets of success measures?

This topic is covered in detail in the TOP Project Goverannce Program

Topics: Project Success, Project Governance

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Apr 2008) as "The Three Different Measures Of Success Applicable To All Projects"

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