Project ManagementRisk Management

The Three Levels of Project Management Success

Success is in the eye of the beholder, or so says Rex M. Holmlin in a post for Voices on Project Management. Have you ever seen a game of three-level chess being played? That, according to Holmlin, would accurately characterize the dynamic at work in most projects – each layer of success affects the other, and so all levels must be played simultaneously.

The 3-Level Project

  • Project-Level
  • User-Level
  • Enterprise-Level

What does success mean to you as a project manager? Of course you might give the traditional stock answers – cost, scope, and scheduling targets. These are the success metrics of our first and most familiar level of success, that of the project. But if our expectations are limited to fulfilling only this level, we may end up celebrating prematurely.

The user, also known as “the person who is actually going to derive value from our product,” will want the project to be on scope, on schedule, and on budget too. But they won’t necessarily be happy simply because we’ve achieved these goals. Similarly, delivering a spectacular product late, over-budget, and beyond established requirements won’t win us accolades.

The third and final level of project success is centered on the enterprise itself. Are key metrics, such as profit, being met? While it’s all fine and dandy that users / stakeholders are happy and projects are buzzing off the presses with fabulous success, if the enterprise is slowly sinking due to a lack of meeting strategic goals, well, then it’s all going down in flames anyway (however happy those flames may be).

As project management practitioners our level of choice is, not surprisingly, the project. But if we neglect the other two levels, we run several risks, none the least of which is appearing ignorant to our constituent users and/or upper level managers.

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Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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