Mar 11, 2011

Reevaluating "Success"

Posted by J. Kent Crawford in Project & Program Management, Performance Measurement, Project Management Research | 1 Comment

After you've spent a year working on a book, it's great to know people are reading it! We ran across a mention of the new Strategic Project Office, Second Edition on an excellent ZDNet blog by Michael Krigsman. He points out that project failure statistics are misleading and often, downright unhelpful, since what constitutes "success" (and conversely "failure") is often poorly defined.

As I've often pointed out, you may come in on time and under budget, but if no one wants the product ... that's not success. That's why we have been cheerleading for better alignment between projects and strategy for several years now. I couldn't agree more with Mr. Krigsman when he writes:

It’s time to develop a more refined and nuanced view of success and failure, emphasizing delivered business value in addition to traditional measures of project management process.

This is what we are actively working with companies to do, and promoting in our training courses. It's also at the heart of our research efforts. Not only linking projects to their overall business purposes, but linking project management improvements to improvements in key business measures, and linking project management training to improved project/business outcomes.

Only when we speak the language of the C-suite will project management truly be able to demonstrate its powers, and that language is all about business success ... not project success per se. Naturally we need to measure the effectiveness of our project management processes; but we can't stop there.

Just one note about Mr. Krigsman's post, though: the list of measures (which one of the commenters rightly observes are factors mostly out of the power of project managers) is one taken from Chapter 1 of the SPO book where we discuss the importance of linking projects with corporate strategy. But those measures were not actually measures of project success or failure. Instead they were measures of organizational performance.  

In the study described in the book (Strategy & Projects, the study that gave this blog its name, which was carried out in 2005), we asked the responding companies to tell us which strategic alignment practices they employed. Then, we asked them to rate themselves on the eight organizational performance measures Mr. Krigsman cites in his post. By cross-tabulating the resulting performance score with the reported practices, we saw that, indeed, companies that align projects with strategy do in fact perform better financially, strategically, in terms of employee and customer satisfaction ... in other words, in terms of the business outcomes.

Did those companies have "successful" projects? Yes, of course. They also had projects that were killed, projects that got in trouble and were recovered, and projects that, while perhaps not meeting a schedule goal, accomplished an important strategic objective. All of which can be, in the light of strategic value, viewed as successes.


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1 Comment on Reevaluating “Success”

Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin says:

I just wanted to point readers of this post back to Krigsman’s blog, where he added a new post discussing PM Solutions’ new Strategies for Project Recovery research. It’s very gratifying to see major IT news outlets picking up on our thought leadership!
Here’s the link:

Posted on March 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm

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