Traditional (Objective) Measures of Project Success

At the base of the Project Pyramid, underpinning and supporting all other duties, responsibilities, functions, and other aspects of Project Management are Scope, Quality, Schedule, and Budget. These four fundamental criteria of every project are the most objective, easily measured, and important metrics of project success.

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At the end of a project, you should be able to determine whether each of these was accomplished or not. And if there were not, you can/should be able to determine exactly how far off the mark you were.

Product Scope

Scope is what the project is fundamentally about. It is what the project team and you will create and deliver and handover at the end of the project. Success is therefore primarily determined by whether or not you delivered the Product Scope to the customer or end user.

As PM, your goal is to create and deliver 100% of the scope, as defined in the Product Breakdown Structure (PBS). The PBS is often a subset of the overall Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and it defines and lists exactly what the deliverables are that the Project is asked to design, create, test, and deliver to the customer or end user.

Scope success is measured literally by looking at the PBS and verifying that each and every element has been completed or not.

Product Quality

In simple terms, Quality is the predetermined measure of how “good” the delivered Scope is. On most engineering projects, Quality is typically measured in four basic areas:

  • Form. Does the delivered product scope meet all of its form requirements, including overall size, shape, and look?

  • Fit. Does the delivered product scope interface to and/or fit within all specific external requirements?

  • Function. Does the delivered product scope fulfill all of its functional requirements?

  • Performance. Does the delivered product scope meet or exceed all of its performance requirements?

On most engineering projects, we measure quality directly against predetermined requirements and specifications. This is done at all levels of the project, including components, subsystems, assemblies, and the overall system.

Results from these tests are typically documented in test reports and summarized, ultimately, in a compliance matrix. Deviations from the requirements are noted and usually subject to approval by the project’s change control board (CCB) via formal relief documents called Requests for Waiver, or RFWs.


A Project Schedule is the planned timeline in which the work is to be accomplished. It defines the overall time constraints placed on the project, including key milestone dates for measuring progress and, ultimately, the handover of the product scope to the customer or end user.

The determination of whether a project was successful or not is determined by whether or not these key milestone dates, including the final project handover and completion date constraints, were achieved or not. And if they weren’t, how far behind schedule were they accomplished?

Schedule performance during the course of a project is measured in a variety of ways, including tracking milestones, measuring percentage-complete of activities, and, frequently, via formal variances that arise from Earned Value (EV) calculations.


The fourth and final objective measure of project success is whether or not the project was completed within the original cost budget or not.

Like schedules, the project budget is a relatively straightforward and definable metric of success. During the course of executing a project, we typically look at things like spending curves, contingency burn rates, and EV cost variances. At the end of the project, the ultimate criteria for measuring budget success is simply the difference between the final actual cost and the original budget.

Measuring Success

For each of the four objective measures of project success (Scope, Quality, Schedule, and Budget) we need to predetermine what success is. We cannot plan for, nor achieve success unless and until these four elements are fully defined, documented, and baselined (approved) prior to executing the project. It is very difficult—if not impossible—to hit an ill-defined and/or moving target.

As PM, you should ensure that each of the four elements have clearly defined success criteria and predefined and agreed-upon measurement methods. Simply saying, for example, that the project needs to “be on time” isn’t enough. What exactly does “on time” mean, and how will it be measured and verified?

As you progress through managing your project, you should focus you and your team’s efforts on accomplishing these four elements; i.e., you must plan your project—first and foremost—and delivering the Product Scope to the customer within the constraints of Quality, Schedule, and Budget.