Success and failure on projects can sometimes mean different things to different organizations. There is no exact measuring stick standard in the project management world. There really can’t be that many variations, but since the level of project oversight varies from company to company, so to does the level to which different criteria matters to the powers that be within an organization. And we certainly can’t forget about the project customer – they definitely have a say in whether or not a project is considered a success. Logically, a project could come in on time and on budget but if the customer is unhappy for some reason, then the project could easily be designated a failure.

So what are the key determiners of success or failure for a project? Across different industries, different organizations, different customers, different PM methodologies, and different PM infrastructures within various organizations there will always be variations of what constitutes a successful project from an unsuccessful one, but the bottom line – as far as I’m concerned – is that there are three key determiners of whether or not a project is deemed a success at the end of the engagement. These three determiners are: on time delivery, on budget delivery, and customer satisfaction. Let’s look each of these in more detail and discuss ways to help ensure project success through proper management of each.

On time delivery

Some project managers set the project schedule in stone at the beginning of the project and fail to use it as a living, breathing tool of for the project. Those individuals have failed on the project before it even started. Project manages who hope to succeed must choose a good project management scheduling tool. They must then use that tool to revise the schedule weekly, engage the team and customer for real progress updates on tasks and use this revised weekly schedule – along with a detailed status report – to drive project status discussions every week with the project team and the project customer.

On budget delivery

You may not be able to deliver on budget every time, but you can help to ensure you’re very close by reviewing, analyzing and revising the project budget weekly using project actuals from the previous week. The project manager that does this will ensure that his project budget is likely never more than 10% off the budget target. A budget that is 10% over is much easier to correct than one that is 50% over. Watch it closely so you can catch it and correct it before it’s too late.

Customer satisfaction

The satisfaction of your customer at the end of the project is something you can never guarantee. Customers are quirky. No one thing you do can ever completely ensure that your project customer will be happy with how the project is run, happy with how your team executed on the project, or happy with the final solution. However, there are a series of things that you can do along the way to greatly increase your chances of ending with a happy customer. These include:

Practice efficient and effective communication throughout the engagement and make sure the project customer is always well informed of project status and any issues that are affecting the project.Engage customer-side subject matter experts (SMEs) and end users during the planning and requirements gathering/finalization phase to ensure that the solution you rollout in the end is going to truly meet the client’s needsDon’t do it for them, but hold the client’s hand during preparation for user acceptance testing (UAT). Most clients don’t prepare very well for this and end up having a disastrous UAT experience leaving them frustrated and less than satisfied.


In the end, you can succeed at two of these determiners and still have most key stakeholders consider the project a failure. You rollout the project to the client successfully by most individuals’ standards, be very pleased with your team’s efforts in meeting the timeline and the budget, and still end up with a customer who is less than satisfied for various reasons including system usability for the end user if there were any glitches in the requirements along the way. There are no guarantees to project success. The bottom line will always be this…stick to project management best practices throughout, practice good communication with all stakeholders in good times and bad, and closely monitor your project’s budget and timeline and you’ll usually achieve the highest customer satisfaction possible and give your project its best chance for success.