How to apply the project success criteria

Last time I talked about the seven project success criteria. Now let’s look at how to put it to work. Ask 10 different stakeholders what success means to them and you’ll probably find 15 different answers. This tool provides a simple method for stakeholders to express what can otherwise be difficult to convey. It’s then possible to have a discussion about the views of different groups and move toward a common understanding of success among stakeholders.

Level controls on a mixing desk

Photo credit: meducauk via photopin cc

The process

You can use this process with any project stakeholders. Even if you do it with no one else, use it with the project sponsor.

Print out one success criteria template per stakeholder and ask them to indicate the relative importance of each of the criteria. It’s like a volume control — each criterion can be at full blast, completely off or somewhere in between. In a group situation I prefer to have people do it individually before working toward a consensus view. This reduces the chance of one or two dominant personalities overriding the majority view.

Remember, this describes successful completion at a certain point in time. The world changes quickly and people’s priorities shift. A stakeholder may express a completely different view in three months time. Success can be redefined later, but will have impacts on the project.

Don’t be surprised if the responses are concentrated toward the right-hand end. This is an indication of the stakeholder’s preferred position, but a few probing questions will help reveal what they value most.


Let’s suppose you’re meeting with the project sponsor about a new project. During this meeting you give him a copy of the success criteria template and ask him to mark the relative importance of the criteria. Your sponsor comes back with this:

Project success criteria example

Project success criteria example

This simple exercise reveals valuable insights like:

  • satisfying clients, adding value and delivering a quality product are the vital success measures we won’t want to compromise;
  • heavy client involvement throughout the project will be a smart move;
  • establishing solid quality processes from the outset will be necessary;
  • budget is less important and you can expect some flexibility here;
  • analysing current client issues, quality assurance, change management and training may need more attention (and budget) than usual;
  • burning the team to hit a deadline shouldn’t be necessary for this project.

Putting it to work

Here’s a few ways to apply the tools:

  1. Use the tool with your sponsor. At the outset, sit down with your sponsor and have them fill out the success criteria template. The project sponsor’s idea of success is the single most important view. Knowing this up-front can make planning easier. If you’re mid-way through a project, try it out anyway. It never hurts to confirm your understanding.
  2. Use it with your project steering committee. Have the members of the steering committee or project board provide their viewpoints and build a shared picture of success between committee members. Though the sponsor ultimately decides how success will be measured, a good sponsor will factor in the views of other stakeholders.
  3. Include the success criteria in your planning documents. Once the project board agree, include the final outcome in your key planning documents. It never hurts to have it in writing.
  4. Review the success criteria when making difficult decisions. Since projects create a new future, uncertainty is part of the journey. When the best course of action is unclear, you could do worse than choosing the option which best aligns with the defined success criteria.
  5. Share the success criteria with your team. When the team understands how success is being measured, it can help them make better choices about where to invest their time and effort.

Challenge: Try this tool out on your current project. Was there a mismatch between your understanding of success and that of your sponsor? Let me know in the comments.

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1 Response

  1. August 13, 2014

    […] time I’ll discuss how to apply this idea in managing […]

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