Subjective Measures of Project Success
Focusing on the qualitative feelings and perceptions of stakeholders...
In a previous post, we explained the four traditional objective measures of project success. Those four (scope, quality, schedule, and budget) are by far the most important indicators of how well a project performs, and they should be front and center of our focus when managing a project. But there are other, not-so-objective metrics of project success.
Even if we have delivered 100% of the scope, within the approved budget and schedule, and meeting 100% of the quality requirements, our project can be considered a failure.
Why is this?
Answer: our stakeholders and project team are comprised of human beings, and like it or not they have emotions, feelings, and thoughts about our projects. Everything can go technically right on a project, but if our key customer or sponsor was dissatisfied in any way with the process… well, we and the project can forever be tainted by those feelings. It’s not always fair, but this is the reality of working with people.
Worse, we can’t always control these types of things, but being cognizant of them ahead of time will help address and mitigate potential issues before they grow into full-blown ill-will.
Some specific areas to keep in mind as we plan and execute our projects include:
Key Stakeholder Expectations. One of our primary duties on a project is to get to know and understand the key stakeholders. These include upper management, customers, users, funding sources, and sponsors. One of these might want numerous interactions, updates, reports, and hand-holding, while another might want only to know when things are going badly or a problem has occurred. No two stakeholders are alike, so taking the time to learn and adapt to their individual requirements is critical to managing their perceptions of the project.
Vendor Interactions. Another area where we and our project teams’ reputations could be sullied is via the vendors and contractors we work with. We will have little direct control over how a vendor perceives their interactions with us, but keeping our relationships open, honest, and transparent is a powerful starting point. And we should never forget to pay our bills and invoices on time, too! Remember, vendor relationships should always start with a goal of “win-win.” Once we’ve begun down that path, we need to do all the things necessary to stay on that road.
Project Team Experience. If our members of our team are unhappy and/or dissatisfied with the experience of working on the project, if they feel like disposable resources and not valued people, if they want to leave and never work for us and/or our organization again—well, we have a problem. Most industries are small, and post-project word of mouth, rumor, and ill-will is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Again, we can run a technically perfect project, but if the reputation of working with us is bad, the outside world can and will begin to view us and our projects as failures, not successes.
The Bottom Line:
In a perfect world, we project managers would all be judged by objective standards of project execution—but we don’t live in a utopia like that. Understanding that the personal, subjective experiences that our stakeholders, vendors, and project team have during our projects is the first step to helping ensure that the overall project is viewed as a success. For better or worse, perception has a way of becoming reality.
The ultimate career goal we should have as project managers is to constantly deliver scope on time, budget and within spec—and finish in a way where all the key players want to immediately jump back in with us and do it all over again.