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How to Measure Project Success and Why You Should

Get the information needed to measure project success, from understanding the project scope and goals to tracking progress and evaluating customer satisfaction.

Motion Blog
at Motion
Dec 5, 2023
Table of contents

How you determine project success depends on the size and scope of the project as well as the target "customer" (that customer could very well be your own business). And how you measure success could be simple or complicated. That's entirely up to you.

The simple measure of success is if the project delivers what was expected. If not, the project failed. However, such a binary view is often only useful for small or simple projects.

A more considered approach is usually required when dealing with more complex projects.

The same applies to your projects. Projects to implement new systems or processes internally either work or don't. Projects you take on for customers or clients typically have more moving parts, more people involved, and, therefore, more people to satisfy.

Project success in your business

It's a well-known statistic that more projects fail than succeed. Or at least, that's how it used to be before we had so many online project management software tools.

Another development that improved project success rates is the Agile method, which allows us to break complex projects down into a series of short sprints.

Unlike the traditional waterfall project management model, you don't have to plan the project in detail or set all the tasks upfront. You can start with a rough idea of what you want to do and some goals and allow each sprint to push you in that general direction.

This lets you be more flexible with what project success means. And it also means you can measure your success by outcomes, not the deliverables.

How to determine project success

An excellent place to start is with the Project Management Body of Knowledge or PMBOK Guide. Published by the Project Management Institute (PMI), it's pretty clear what makes a project successful: "Success is measured by product and project quality, timeliness, budget compliance, and degree of customer satisfaction."

Let’s break that down.

Understand the project scope

One of the most significant risks any project faces is scope creep, so it's crucial to define the scope (clearly) upfront. The scope is what, precisely, the project must deliver.

Traditionally, the scope would be "cast in stone" because any changes could endanger the project budget and timeline. But what do you do if circumstances change or the reasons you embarked on the project are no longer valid?

In an Agile project lifecycle, no problem. You can change the scope of a project "in flight," but only starting with the next sprint. You make the call on finishing the current sprint based on whether its outcome will still be valuable to the project. That's the beauty of the Agile approach to project management.

Set your project goals and objectives

Although scope-related, the project's goals and objectives are quite different. And there are even differences between those two terms themselves:

  • Goals are the broad outcomes that you're aiming for.
  • Objectives are defined, measurable steps to achieve your goals.

Both are needed to keep your project team focused on what they are working to achieve.

A great rule of thumb for setting project goals is the SMART method, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Define your project success criteria

In the end, how will you know that your project was a success?

There’s a wide range of criteria you can use to measure the success of your project, such as:

  • Team satisfaction
  • End-user satisfaction
  • Supplier satisfaction
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Stakeholder satisfaction,
  • Keeping the project in scope
  • Achieving project goals or objectives
  • Project cost performance
  • Quality assurance
  • Project deliverables.

Some or all of these may come into play on your project.

Identify your project metrics

"You can't manage what you can't measure." Although management guru Peter Drucker never said those words, they're often attributed to him. Whoever said it, it's an applicable adage.

This is where the metrics you choose to measure progress on your project come into play. To accurately track project progress, you'll need quantifiable data. Then you can compare actual values to planned or budgeted values to gauge where you stand at any point in the project lifecycle.

You can do this comparison with costs, timelines, or the quality of the ultimate product or service. You can also do it with client satisfaction scores, fidelity to the project plan, or profit margin.

The importance of stakeholders

PMI defines stakeholders as “Individuals and organizations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected as a result of project execution or successful project completion.”

That’s just a complicated way of saying that a stakeholder is anyone who has something to win or lose from the project’s success.

Internal stakeholders

An internal stakeholder is any person or group with a direct relationship with you or your project. They could be project team members, employees, owners, shareholders, or investors.

Each of these internal stakeholder groups can (and often will) have a different view of what project success looks like. That's something you'll need to consider when figuring out how to measure project success.

External stakeholders

External stakeholders don't usually work directly with you, but they're affected by your actions and the outcomes of your business or project. Again, project success might look very different to them than it does to you.

What's important here is that external stakeholders often want you to succeed. They could be government agencies, industry regulators, customers, suppliers and vendors, the local community, or financial institutions.

Investors and shareholders may not be directly involved in the business or project. That'd make them external rather than internal stakeholders. Competitors are also external stakeholders. They may see your success as a threat.

Communication is key

The solution to meeting the success criteria of all stakeholders lies in your communication with them. It allows you to manage and even modify their expectations along the way.

‎But you have to have a project communications plan.

You need to know how, when, and what you'll communicate with all your stakeholders (internal and external). I.e., sending the right message at the right time and frequency.

If the thought of so much communication has your eyes rolling back in your head, think about it this way: keeping your stakeholders involved, participating, and even excited about what you're trying to do will be the key to project success.

Your blueprint for success

You can only get away with so much smoke and mirrors. Ultimately, you must establish objective criteria for measuring and illustrating project success.

Define your project

The first step in any project is determining what you want to achieve, how best you can achieve it, and who'll help you. If that sounds like a project plan, that's because that's precisely what it is.

General Eisenhower famously said, "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

A good plan will make or break your project.

If you plan your project accurately, it'll go a long way to streamline the work, ensure it's completed on time, and achieve your project goals without blowing out the budget.

Not planning correctly exposes you to missed deadlines, budget overruns, and outcomes that don't meet expectations.

Schedule your project

Having drawn up the plan, the next step is understanding when the work will be done. This is the scheduling piece, where you logically organize tasks, resources, and due dates and sequence them over time.

There are only so many hours in the day, and you'll have to manage your demands on the people in your team carefully.

Let's say you have a star performer on your team. The temptation would be to give that person all the critical tasks because you know they'll be done right the first time, every time.

But that's the wrong approach for two reasons.

First, you risk overloading your star player, which could demotivate them. Second, you'll not be building depth in your team, which will almost definitely be bad for morale.

The solution is to balance the tasks across the team and over time. That's effective scheduling (and resource management.)

Finally, you'll want to track everything so that you can keep tabs on project progress and illustrate (hopefully) successful project outcomes. That subject deserves its own section.

Keeping track of everything

The only way to know that your project has been successful is if you have had a finger on the pulse of the project the whole time. And that's where a tool like Motion's Progress Tracker can help you track progress and stay on top of deadlines.

It'll also allow you to identify potential bottlenecks and take corrective action when necessary. A progress tracker offers a centralized view of project progress. It also lets your team communicate updates and enables you to make informed decisions.

Track costs

One of the most common measures of project success is (also) the simplest: did you stay within budget?

To this end, you need to record labor, resources, tools, and other costs incurred on your project every step of the way.

Staying within budget means that you've allocated your resources well. It also means that the estimates you made during planning were correct.

Some stakeholders may see project profit margin as the most critical measure of project success.

Track customer satisfaction

There are always customers for a project, even if it's (just) internal to your business. You must evaluate their satisfaction with progress and the project’s outcome(s) vs. their expectations. If not, you stand a decent chance of not delivering a successful project.

There are many ways to get at customer satisfaction, but the easiest way to do that is to simply ask them. It’s best to start doing so early in the project (and continue to do so throughout the project lifecycle.)

And although subjective feedback is excellent, you’ll also want something quantifiable to track over time.

Track team satisfaction

Your project team is front and center in the project. Team members often have different perspectives on the process and its outcome.

You can do this in lessons-learned or retrospective meetings, or with surveys.

Team satisfaction surveys are also an opportunity for team members to evaluate each other's performance (and their own).

While it may not always directly impact the project at hand, the information can help you with future projects.

How you measure your project success will depend on your chosen metrics and what your different stakeholders expect. It can get very complicated, but fortunately, project management tools are available to help you.

One of the best of these is Motion's AI-powered project management app. It's a simple two-step process: Add your project and sit back while Motion automatically creates schedules for your team members, and then tracks the work for you.

Stack the odds of project success with Motion

Project success almost always depends on a project manager who knows the project's status at any time. Project management software can help with that.

But it's never a straight line in projects. You may need to juggle the project schedule, the technical resources, or the team itself.

Keeping all your plates in the air requires strong project management skills and the right technology. Technology like Motion's AI-powered Project Management App.

Try Motion now by signing up for a 7-day free trial.

Motion Blog
Written by Motion Blog