October 19, 2023

How to Improve Your Project Success Chances

At some point, you will hand off your final delivery to the customers. Will they be satisfied? How can you be sure? What about other stakeholders? To finish a project successfully, you need to consider all significant aspects. Not all of them are about the project.

Quite often, I hear that a PM should finish a project within the constraints of time, costs, and scope. Some also add quality to the list. Though, I think we should never trade quality.

I believe it is a barely satisfying outcome. Every project may deliver much more value if you consider the following five key components of project success.

How Should You Treat Your Project?

In most cases, your project is not the most important one in the organization. It is just one of the many. The destiny of the organization does not depend on it.

You may treat it as the most crucial opportunity in your career. However, you must always balance your needs with the strategic goals of your company.

It means that project success has many components. Moreover, some of them are related to the organization in general and other projects in particular.

“Constraints of scope, time and costs do not define project success to a full extent.”
– Dmytro Nizhebetskyi

1: Project Objectives

Imagine that you have created a product or service or integrated a new process in the organization. Everything was done within budget and in time. All requirements implemented. However, no one wants to use your product or service.

Can you call it a success? Well, I do not think so.

You may say that it is not your responsibility. That a Product Manager, customers, and sponsor have to think about it. You just have to deliver what they ask. Sounds like a lame excuse to me.

I think that a good project manager is a proactive one.

Therefore, you need to ensure that major stakeholders will be satisfied in the end. That means that you need to explain the importance of clearly defined success criteria. And of course, you need to help them to set them up.

On the other hand, project objectives have an additional benefit. They help you to analyze the feasibility of the project and stakeholders’ expectations.

2: Stakeholders’ Expectations

Expectations of major stakeholders are quite straightforward. They want to get the results they requested. Moreover, in a way, they feel it.

However, what about other influential stakeholders?

Consider the following cases:

  • The director of the department wants to use your best employees to interview candidates. But you do not plan in any spare time for them. So, the director is somewhat unhappy, even when the client is satisfied.
  • The functional manager has his own tasks. He wants to keep some good specialists within the functional area to finish the work. But then you request all these resources to staff up your project. You left him a heap of unfinished work. So, the company is left with an outdated task tracker for several other months.
  • How about a program manager who is not interested in finishing your project too early? Well, only because it may mean a lower budget for the next quarter.
  • Two technical experts are vigorously pushing different solutions for your project. Do you know that, most likely, one of them pursues personal goals? So, if it is aligned with the project objectives, you can get a very supportive and engaged stakeholder.
  • A team member expects a promotion after the project ends. She does her best… but are you aware of her expectations? How disappointed she will be if you will not do a review for her?

Managing and meeting stakeholders’ expectations is a sure way to project success. There are some valuable insights in one of my older posts on how to influence stakeholders.

3: Team’s Wellbeing

Can you state that a project is successful when you do everything on time and within budget, but your team is exhausted and demotivated? Half of them leave the organization right after the project closure.

I believe that it is your responsibility to keep the team happy, ready, and eager for the next projects.

I bet you hate to get demotivated people from other projects or functional areas…

4: Organisational Improvement

Lessons learned are important. You know that. But is it a low-priority activity in your organization, isn’t it?

I am a strong believer that one must not repeat the same mistakes twice. On the organizational level, it means that you need to document all relevant experience on your project. You need to share it. Moreover, you must learn from the experience of others.

When your next project is not secured against risks, problems, and mistakes you know about – I do not believe you should say that your project is successful.

“When your next project is not secured against risks, problems, and mistakes you know about – you should say that your project is successful.”

– Dmytro Nizhebetskyi

5: Personal Goals

You need to plan your career path in terms of projects, not years. For each project, you need to define clear goals for your personal development. Moreover, you need to inform your management about some of them. The goals that you can align with the strategic objectives of your organization should go first.

Why does it matter?

At the end of each project, you will have two things. Your project plan (including your personal development). And the actual results. These are measurable entities. You can prove that your performance has improved. Or at least you made some progress.

This approach works well.

Otherwise, you can only state that you managed projects for another year. And I can bet that no one will remember your efforts at the beginning of that period.

Success Criteria

Elizabeth Harrin has the following definition: “Project success criteria are the standards by which the project will be judged at the end to decide whether or not it has been successful in the eyes of the stakeholders.”

And I suggest you check the full article here:

The Definitive Guide To Project Success Criteria

It is not enough to just understand the success components. You need to identify standards for each element. And they should be measurable and trackable, at least.

Defining the success criteria correctly is a science of its own. However, success criteria have much in common with goals. And there is an abundance of valuable suggestions on goal setting.

Monitor and Control Project Success

The best practice here is to ensure project success long before project closure. It should not be a matter of luck. A good project manager knows that the customer will accept the final delivery for sure. How?

First, he defines success components and success criteria early. He then plans in a way to meet the success criteria in key components. During project execution, he checks and ensures that interim results are within criteria or at least near so. He ensures that stakeholders provide feedback on the results all the way. So, in the end, it is a matter of polishing small details for him.