Thursday, December 8

Project success or failure?


WE often talk about and hear the term ‘project success’ but what is meant by this term and how is the success of a project determined?Kodak embarked upon a massive project to implement a new Advantix photographic system and upon completion in 1997 the Project Management Institute (PMI) recognised it as the International Project of the Year, and Business Week selected the system as one of the best new products of 1996.

But Kodak’s stock price fell 67 per cent since the introduction of the Advantix system, in part because it failed to anticipate the accelerating switch to digital photography. Was this a successful project?

On the other side of the coin, the Sydney Opera House (SOH) with its graceful sails dominating Sydney Harbour is arguably one of the most recognised buildings in the world and when construction started in 1959, it was estimated to cost A$7 million and take four years to build. It was finally completed in 1973, some 14 years late, costing over A$100 million.

Today the SOH is considered one of the seven modern wonders of the world and on June 28, 2007 was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List as ‘A masterpiece of human creative genius’. So, was the project a success?

Before you are able to answer both these questions, another question must be asked and that is, “From whose perspective are you determining the success?”

A project has many stakeholders with differing objectives in terms of what is being delivered (the product) and how it is being delivered (the management) all of which need be identified and documented prior to the project commencing.

These objectives form the ‘critical success factors’ that can be measured at project completion and thus determine the success of the project from individual stakeholder requirements.

Project success then, depends on two aspects namely ‘product success’ and ‘project management success’ depending on who you are and what are your vested interest is in the project. A project may have been managed extremely well however, the end product may not be ‘fit for purpose’ rendering it a complete failure (Kodak) alternatively a project could have been totally mismanaged but the end product is a resounding success (SOH).

Product ‘success’ is linked to the strategic objectives (goals) of individual stakeholders thus the owner of the project is more likely to place a greater importance on the long term benefits of the project than on the short term effects of how it was managed.

So while the SOH project was grossly over budget

and delivered 14 years late all that is forgotten now as the reality is it is an enormous success. Kodak on the other hand failed to forecast the onslaught of the digital age, consequently the end product was deemed a failure as it did not meet the strategic objectives of senior stakeholders.

‘Project Management’ success focuses on the process of management the project and is usually measured through the achievement of metrics such as the triple constraints of time, cost and performance and therefore the contractor undertaking the project is more concerned with producing the deliverables on time, within budget and to the clients specification rather than whether the end product suits the needs of the users or if it has strategic alignment with the companies objectives.

The strategic objectives of the product success may seem somewhat obscure to external stakeholders or within the lower ranks of a company but items such as market share, political gain or company improvements may override the success of actually managing the project.

The term ‘project success’ cannot be stated in isolation from that of whose perspective the success is spoken about otherwise it will always be open to disagreement from other stakeholders. The SOH project whilst a total failure from a project managers perspective, is in fact a resounding project success to the owners due to the ongoing iconic value that the end product generates in tourism dollars as well as providing a world class stage for the performing arts.

So does a successful project rely on both ‘product’ and ‘project management’ success? Some believe that it does but my opinion is that at least one must be successful and to stick my neck right on the chopping block I believe that no matter how well the project is executed if it does not meet the client’s specification, then it is a failure.

The bottom line is that all stakeholders must agree on the critical success factors before the project even begins then, those factors can be used as a benchmark to measure the overall project successfulness upon completion.

Phil Palmer is the managing director of PCSS Consultancy Sdn Bhd providing Project Controls services to all industries and holds a Master of Science Degree in Project Management. Articles will be posted on where you are welcome to send your enquiries or comments or you can visit their website at