What defines a Projects Success?

What is a Project?

As defined in our textbook, “a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. A project usually involves a new vision, a change request depending on various needs.

No two projects are the same, it can be looked at differently from different point of views.

It consists of components which are achieved in an organized manner with a defined start and finish.

Going through the above definitions of a project, I started wondering, what defines the success of a project?

Generally speaking, a project is successful if it realized its objectives and delivered results within deadline and budget.

Another main factor is how satisfied its stakeholders are, since at the end they are usually the one who wanted the project and invested in making it.

A project success can also be subjective in a way, for example, in a construction a project if the owner decided he didn’t want to carry on the project, and the foundation was already built at that point of time, to the main investor the project was a failure, but the contractor who was responsible to build the foundation can think of it as a success, since his part was delivered in full as agreed upon.

A paper written by Banat’s University in Romania sets 5 factors to identify a project’s failure or success as follows:

  1. Beneficiary
  2. Supportive executive manager
  3. Clear understanding of the requirement
  4. Appropriate planning
  5. Realistic expectations

Which is inline with what we studied during our course, and also emphasizes the importance of communications among team members as well as the strength of the project manager.

Another very interesting article by Mr. Robert Goatham (a project manager), who introduces an interesting view into measuring the success of a project where he defines them within 5 tiers/ levels.

He sets 5 levels of conditions to be met for a project to be considered successful:

  1. Delivered most of the objectives, regardless of time and budget.
  2. Delivered the objectives on time and/or within budget.
  3. Delivered the project on time, within budget and as per the expected quality.
  4. Delivered all objectives as agreed upon, as per the defined criteria, with the expected quality and outcome.
  5. The highest level of success is achieved if the project delivered a product that adds a significant net value for the organization.


5 Layers in Project Success


The editor’s example as explanation of his concept was about The Sydney Opera House, the original budged in the 1957 plan was $7M to be finished within 5 years. It was completed after 13 years and costed $110M. This project would be considered a failure as per the classical definition, but this is today one of the main tourist attraction.

He argues that the value of a project could change over time and might sometimes include outcomes which are beyond a project manager’s control.


From your own experience, what do you think is the main factor in determining a project’s success or failure? Would you agree with Mr. Robert Goatham?




MGT598 textbook, Project Management: The Management Process, 6th Edition


7 thoughts on “What defines a Projects Success?

  1. I agree with the 5 levels of conditions that need to be met in order for a project to be completed successfully. We don’t live in a perfect world. Expecting a picture perfect implementation of a project is never going to happen. Instead focusing on the 5 levels provides a context to properly evaluate a project rather than just deem it a success or failure based on everything being executed flawlessly. It’s a lot easier to understand, giving us a grasp on whether or not the main objectives were met. Has the project accomplished as a whole what it was set out to accomplish? Answering questions like this should be far more important rather than looking at every detail that went awry. That isn’t to say that one should not adhere to higher standards but instead should look at the bigger picture while continually improving as well.

  2. Personally i agree with the 5 levels of conditions that need to be met in order for a project to be completed successfully. Every project is different with different levels of success. Some might call it successful based on what is delivered from the goals and in other projects it might be called successful is it has been delivered on time but not all the goals have been met. I guess the criteria for success depends on the many factors like the investors, client, executive manager, project manager, etc… Therefore i think the levels give a broad scope of examining the successfulness of a project rather than specifying it to a couple of factors.

  3. Interesting blog post by Hind, I guess determining project depends on who is evaluating the success or failure of the project, is it the customer who requested the project or the project manager or it might be the end user of the project thus, the project manager could of completed the project on time, with the required budget plus it match’s the objective of the project and both the project manager and the customer are happy with the project but the end user found the project useless and that it doesn’t add any value. I personal don’t agree with all of Mr. Robert Goatham conditions like the one with going overboard with the time and budget thus, at the end of the day this might mean bankruptcy for the project owner but on the other hand I strongly agree that the project should add value to the company’s net value.

  4. Thanks Hind for sharing two very interesting and useful articles.

    Yes I do agree with the five levels and its important to set the deadline and expectations clearly defined for the resources to work on. Supportive project project manager, this is something lacks in a number of managers and because of that the project suffers. Another very important aspect is the term realistic expectations which usually is not the case.
    Still the project managers need to be focussed and plan to hire/choose the right team, set realistic targets etc. in order to have a successful completion of the project.

  5. In general, I do agree with the 5 levels as articulated by Mr. Goatham. However, I think the entire issue of project success needs to be evaluated in the appropriate context. In the past my company has knowingly entered into construction contracts that were sure to result in a financial loss for the company, with the sole intention of establishing a solid relationship with the project owner that may lead to much larger and more profitable contracts in the future. For us, even though the initial project represented a loss of roughly $1M, it was a resounding success since it lead to a $500M contract award that ended up highly profitable for our company. So, in my opinion, the 5 levels are useful if evaluated in context.

  6. I had to read this post twice. I’m not convinced the work cited was properly interpreted. From my vantage point, the five levels are meant to portray levels of success, and not a list of conditions to be met whose sum will equate to a successful project.

    Assuming that I have interpreted the intent of this tool correctly, I am still not convinced that it needs to entail all five levels. The iron triangle of Time, Cost, and Scope is all that is needed. I believe that quality standards are defined within the scope. That would eliminate the third layer. The first (or top) layer is redundant, either the three conditions have been met or they have not. The second layer assumes there was no screening project for the projects creation or worse, that the scoped objectives were arbitrary and not tied to the organizations strategy.

    If I were to add any level of success that extends beyond the iron triangle, it would be the unexpected benefits an organization realizes from the projects lessons learned.

  7. This is a very scientific take on a topic that in many ways is considered an art. Project success can be defined by the 5 items here for internal projects but I have always defined project success from the perspective of the customer. How does your customer or key stakeholder define success? I feel these five topics are a great way to elicit the key success factors from your customer or key stakeholders to build your project charter and seine how your project is successful. Great article hind.

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