What are the measures of project success? There are three sets of success measures that need to be known and targeted for every project.

You would think knowing what 'success' is would be fundamental to every project

This question seemed to perplex most executives.

Wrong perspective — need for a ‘business outcomes’ focus

The most common measure of project success is the simplistic (and wrong) “on time, on budget and to specification”.

A few add “and to deliver the benefits expected” but also admit they have no means to track these benefits. This seems to be more a case of ‘should be a measure’ than being an actual current measure of success.

Discussions around the governance team’s ‘measures of success’ tend to center on the ‘scope’ and ‘project outputs’ with the occasional addition of ‘business acceptance’ (although others explicitly excluded this as a success measure on the basis that “they’ll accept what they’re given!”)

Few approach the question of ‘success’ in business outcomes terms — where do we want to be and how will we measure it when we get there?

When this approach is taken the project becomes a means to an end rather than the end in itself. The measure of success is the achievement of the measurable business outcomes and benefits — an improvement to the business.

As one experienced senior executive who saw business outcomes as the primary measure argued, “If we’re two months late and 20% over budget but deliver an excellent result, then in two years time no one will remember the project statistics, they’ll just remember the increase in business performance. I focus on achieving the business result.” (However, this is not to argue that time/budget are not important controls!)

A key requirement of any governance team is to maintain its perspective on the measurable business outcomes to be delivered — where the organization is trying to get too. Being focused only on the project performance measures is too limited a view.

A broader definition of governance ‘success’ is needed

The lack of focus on the right measures of success is symptomatic of the lack of understanding of the role and contribution of project governance.

It is usually assumed that the governance measures of success are the same as the project’s measures and, therefore, implementing the project equals a ‘successful project’. This is a false belief.

This false belief becomes clear to governance teams when they are taken through a process to identify:

  1. their measures of success
  2. their measures of failure
  3. and the organization’s measures of success of their project.

The results of this exercise significantly change the governance team’s perspective.

The following table shows the different perspectives — ALL of which are valid measures of success to be met.

measures of success
Governance team
measures of success
measures of success

Establishment of a working national centre for accounting services

Decommissioning of regional accounting positions and roles

Meeting the set SLAs within three months of the takeover of each state

Standardising the reporting formats and accounting treatments nationwide

Eliminating duplicate tasks and processes


Delivering lower costs and efficiency savings so that the business sees the outcomes as valuable Improving the quality of reporting in terms of accessibility, integrity, consistency and ease of use

Being seen to have delivered a consistent or enhanced service

Being a silent contributor to process improvement — reducing costs and providing a more effective overlay function

Receiving strong management support across the business

Standardising nationally,


A seamless transition is easier to access information

Information to be better quality

National centre to be responsive

Managerial importance to be recognised in service levels

The regions still own the results

They know and understand how the process works

The generation of these different sets of success measures is an integral part of TOP's Project Governance program


Topics: Project Success, Project Governance

Further Reading



[1] ...

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Feb 2008) as "What Are The Measures Of Project Success?"

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