Blogging AllianceMichel DionProject Management

Redefining Success in Project Management


The basic definition of success

How do you manage performance in your project? Shouldn’t this question be simple? Isn’t it the basic of project management?

If you complete a project on scope, time and budget, you have succeeded. This is the famous triple constraint in project management, and it’s always interesting to see how engraved these constraints are in our minds. PMBOK 5th edition now talks about the competing constraints of scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources and risks (PMBOK, p. 6). It seems that very few have updated their project management vocabulary to use the concept of competing constraints.

PMBOK defines project success based on the competing constraints in section 2.2.3 (p. 35):

Since projects are temporary in nature, the success of the project should be measured in terms of completing the project within the constraints of scope, time, cost, quality, resources, and risk as approved between the project managers and senior management. To ensure realization of benefits for the undertaken project, a test period (such as soft launch in services) can be part of the total project time before handing it over to the permanent operations. Project success should be referred to the last baselines approved by the authorized stakeholders.

The reality check

We see a lot of discussion about the rate of success in project management. Unfortunately, the rate of success based on the above definition tends to be very low. The most frequent solution to this fact always seems to be something like:

  • “If we could just implement more methodology, everything would be perfect.”
  • “If we could only plan more and better, everything would be perfect.”
  • “If we could have a project sponsor doing a better job, everything would be perfect.”

I guess if you fully implement these three solutions, you are guaranteed 100% project success… Problem solved!

Yet based on our given definition of success, we remain challenged. When a solution doesn’t bring the expected results, it is wise to rethink the analysis.

It is possible that the PMBOK definition of success is incomplete and too narrow. After all, the triple constraints, or the competing constraints, are just that—constraints. They are operational metrics. They are important, but other performance metrics should also be used to measure the success of a project. They are not strategic and not measuring the value and benefits of the project.

After all, your client’s major concern isn’t if you deliver a ‘successful’ project on scope, time and cost. When we measure success in project management by assessing our ability to meet operational metrics, it creates some odd consequences:

  • Achieving the established numbers for the constraints becomes more important than adding value.
  • It is not important that the project achieve benefits.
  • Discussions become very tactical with no room for strategic discussion.
  • Change requests, innovations and new ideas are assessed against the baseline, not the benefits they bring.

A better definition of success

definesuccessAn organization should never define its success based only on operational metrics. We need good processes and project management practices, but they are enablers, tools to support the efficiency of the project. They are not the ultimate goal of the project, and they never will be. It is important to also include strategic objectives and be able to measure them.

Our clients are paying us to help them achieve a specific result. In their mind, when they think about the project, they are focused on the benefits of the project; they just assume that we as professionals will use proper methodology. So let’s understand how they think and view their project.

As a project manager, it is better to go beyond the triple constraints or competing constraints to assess the various elements of your projects in the following ways:

  • Strategic: benefits and value of the project to the stakeholders
  • Operational: usually the various constraints in the plans
  • Infrastructure: quality and appropriateness of the tools, processes, software and resources available for the project

In project management, we are often very quick to embrace the value of project management methodology and their operational metrics. However, the profession is much slower at adopting a strategic view of project management. Often, we prefer to narrow the role of project management as task supervision and task execution.

Project management cannot be a strategic tool for an organization if it only has an operational and tactical view of the world.


Your client wants the project to succeed. The project was initiated for a reason. Be a project leader and make sure you know what it is. Although the operational metrics are good to manage contracts, the satisfaction of the client will be based on the value and benefits of the deliverables.

Having this strategic view of the project will have a significant impact on how we manage all phases of the projects, interact with the client, respond to changes and make decisions.


For more brilliant insights, check out Michel’s website: Project-Aria

Additionally, check out his book, Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve better results in a dynamic world:

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