Projects represent the opportunity to improve the future. When a project is successfully delivered, benefits will be realised and the future gets brighter. But, if a project fails, it represents a miss by the business, with both wasted time and money. Sometimes, it’s clear if the project has been a success or failure. However, sometimes there are grey areas. So, do you know how to measure the success of a project?

A project is an investment by your business. An investment in money, in resources, in time. All good investors need to know if they are getting a positive return on their investment.

Whilst there are some generic project management metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators), they are not the only factor. So, when you’re considering how to measure the success of a project, you should consider both generic project management KPIs as well as the specific goals of the project.

Setting Up Measures of Success at the Start of Your Project

Ideally, you should agree what success looks like early on in your project. It should form part of the discussions that go into building the Project Brief or Project Charter. Having these discussions early on in the project lifecycle will help you understand what is important to the business. There will be no surprises.

For example, if your project delivery timescale is critically important, you’ll know that for your project to be a success, you need to hit the timelines. However, if your sponsor and key stakeholders are telling you that it’s important to hit a certain financial figure then you can be sure that’s one way that you can measure the success of your project.

5 Project Management Performance Indicators You Need to Use

There are 5 KPIs that can help you measure project success.

1. Delivering expected benefits

It’s likely that there is a specific benefit that you’re aiming to achieve. Therefore, the first question to ask is – did you achieve the expected benefit? For any financial benefits, you need to check if the benefits were actually realised. Did the money actually and literally find its way to the business’ bottom line?

Essentially, this is a measure of the quality of your project.

2. Finishing on time

Your project plan will undoubtedly flex and shift as the project progresses through the lifecycle. However, you need to consider the key milestones. How have these shifted over time? Have you kept the original baseline timelines or has the project been delayed?

You won’t be surprised that this is a measure of the time commitments made and what was achieved.

3. Successfully controlling budgets

We’ve discussed the expected benefits. Now it’s time to consider the expected costs and budgeting. If you don’t monitor and manage the costs, then the project finances can easily spin out of control. This may affect the overall feasibility of continuing with the project. Questions to ask include: did the project come in within the original budget? Were there any unexpected overspends?

Of course, this is a measure of the cost of your project.

What else, besides the constraints of time, cost, quality?

I’m sure you will have realised that these 3 KPIs are so-called golden triangle or project constraints. Read more about Project Constraints.

But what else should you consider over and above these 3 critical factors?

4. Taking the right approach

Your project has achieved everything it set out to do. Successful project right? Certainly one way of looking at it.

However, in the process, you’ve destroyed relationships, frustrated stakeholders and generally caused organisational chaos.

Now, should this be seen as project success or failure?

The next performance indicator to consider is the approach taken. Have you been “above board” and honest throughout the project? Have you behaved as an ethical project manager? What would your stakeholders say if you weren’t listening? Did anyone get “stabbed in the back”?

This can be a tricky one to measure and involves open discussions with your sponsor. In addition to this, a healthy dose of self awareness will also help!

Taking the right approach to getting the job done will help enable future collaboration. It will allow your organisation to build stronger relationships between teams and divisions. That is, both stronger internal relationships as well as robust external links. In turn, this will allow your business to tackle the bigger challenges and make more progress.

5. Sustaining the change

The final project metric when looking at how to measure the success of a project is how well the change “gets made and stays made”. This is a longer term metric to achieve. By definition, it will take time to assess if it has been successfully embedded.

Questions to consider here include: is the change still active after a number of months? Is the solution in regular use across all areas of the business? How are users short cutting the process – (and why)?

Sustaining the change is often an activity that can be overlooked. Often, it gets forgotten in the celebration of finishing off a piece of work as well as the excitement of a new project. But overlooking change is a major make mistake. After all, if nothing changes then the entire project has been a waste of time. Delivering a sustainable change is so much more than a buzzword – it’s arguably the overall legacy of the project.

Read more about Landing Retail Operational Changes.

In Review – How to Measure the Success of a Project

By now, you know how to measure the success of a project. You should start to think about this from the early stages of the project lifecycle. Furthermore, the golden triangle of time, cost, quality is important… but it’s not everything. The approach that you took throughout the project is a key consideration to overall project success. Also, it’s essential that the change is sustainable and still active months down the road.

I’d suggest that you start reviewing your project against the success criteria on a monthly basis (or every other week for larger and/or quicker projects). This helps to mentally focus on what matters most within the organisation. Build a scorecard to track progress and identify action to help improve the future performance.

What are your struggles or tips when it comes to planning how to measure the success of a project? Start a conversation on Twitter and mention us @projectmsuccess.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert retail project and programme manager. He’s managed and led many different retail operational improvement projects. He is an independent consultant and has worked with a number of large retailers across a variety of categories. Oliver is passionate about helping retailers to actually deliver projects to improve stores, distribution and head office operations.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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