Assessment of criteria that define project success and failure

Date: 19/10/2018

Prepared by: Majed Abdeen

I have worked with some organizations, each of which had different Success/Failure definitions. In my opinion, when measuring Success/Failure, we must consider project constraints, when and how each stakeholder perceives them. We have as many different definitions as we have stakeholders.

One key stakeholder did not mind delivery years late, but the Quality was the critical constraint; without it, the project would fail. My organization saw Success as achieving business value, regardless of project objectives, when they should also think about the project, team, community, environment…etc.

Thus, projects are unique: “One Size Does Not Fit All”. After all, if we know each project is unique, why did we expect one definition of success/failure? Although, the main criteria, is to deliver the project objectives.


Projects are unique thus criteria used to measure success or failure must be suited to the project, otherwise, failure or disappointment may result from the common misconception that ‘one size fits all’ (Dvir, et al., 2006, p. 3). This illustrates the importance of the business case document when selecting the project; it contains “identification of critical success factors” (PMBOK, 2017, p. 31), providing the PM with a reason for the project’s existence plus a clear definition for determining success or failure (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, p. 114). Kloppenborg (2012) identifies questions enabling the project team to understand success definitions through the project’s unique requirements.

Definition Criteria

Complexity and ambiguity are inherent in defining and measuring success/failure (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 68). It may be difficult to determine failure; in some organizations failure is politically dangerous thus projects are not terminated (failed) (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, p. 555).

In the literature we can identify ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ criteria.


The Iron Triangle (On Time, Within Budget, and Within Scope) (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 20), plus Quality (PMBOK, 2017, p. 34) are conventional definitions, but are not the best measurement (Turner & Zolin, 2012, p. 18) since stakeholder interpretations are subjective (Turner & Zolin, 2012, p. 21).


Thus when evaluating project outcomes, stakeholder expectations (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 29) and project objectives are required (PMBOK, 2017, p. 34). Broader criteria are needed, such as achievement of business or strategic benefits, since project success is a “multidimensional construct with interrelated technical, economic, behavioral, business, and strategic dimensions” (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 2). (Bannerman, 2008) has created a framework of five levels for evaluation of success using criteria focusing on aspects of Process, Project Management, Product, Business and Strategic. Likewise, Turner & Zolin (2012, p. 9) have also created a model for measuring success which focuses on both the stakeholders and the timescales. Shenhar and Dvir (2007, cited in Turner & Zolin, 2012, p. 5) identify five success categories:

1. Efficiency,

2. Impact on the team,

3. Impact on the customer,

4. Business success, and

5. Preparing for the future.

Stakeholders & Timescales

Stakeholders perceive Success/Failure differently over different timescales (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 26), (Turner, 2009, cited in Turner & Zolin, 2012, p. 4). Levels & timescales for evaluating success after the project are: (Turner & Zolin, 2012, p. 7)

Clients, parent organization, project team, and the public all have different success/failure definitions; even within organizations, managers can have different priorities and objectives (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, p. 13).

“Different values, interests, needs, and expectations become relevant to particular stakeholders’ interpretations depending on the social, economic, historical, and organizational context in which a project is situated” (Bartis & Mitev, 2008; Lyytinen & Hirschheim, 1987 cited in McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 8). Thus, success can mean different things to different people.


When defining criteria for success/failure, the process is complex; traditional measures do not suffice (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 25). Thus critical success factors must be examined at every project phase exit (Ofori, 2013, p. 28). Stakeholders’ different perceptions result in different evaluations of success across different timeframes (McLeod, et al., 2012, p. 26), thus PMs must remain aware of the success/failure definitions for their projects.


Bannerman, P. L., 2008. Defining project success: a multilevel framework. Newtown Square, PA, Project Management Institute.

Dvir, D., Sadeh, A. & Malach-Pines, A., 2006. Projects and project managers: the relationship between project managers’ personality, project types, and project success. Project Management Journal, 37(5), p. 36–48.

Kloppenborg, T., 2012. Project Selection and Initiation Questions Leading to Good Risk Management. PM World Today, January.XIV(1).

McLeod, L., Doolin, B. & MacDonell, S. G., 2012. A perspective-based understanding of project success. Project Management Journal, 43(5), p. 68–86.

Meredith, R. & Mantel, J., 2012. PROJECT MANAGEMENT: A Managerial Approach. 8th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Nagadevara, V., 2012. Project success factors and inter-sectorial differences. Review of Business Research, 12(1), p. 115–120.

Ofori, D. F., 2013. Project Management Practices and Critical Success Factors–A Developing Country Perspective. International Journal of Business and Management, 15 October, 21(8), p. 14–31.

PMBOK, 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc..

Turner, J. R. & Zolin, R., 2012. Forecasting success on large projects: developing reliable scales to predict multiple perspectives by multiple stakeholders over multiple time frames. Project Management Journal, 43(5), p. 87–99.