Identifying the measures of project success at the end of a project is too late to mitigate failures and major shortfalls in performance. So how do you set the project up for success?
First you need to define the primary measures of success—your desired business outcomes, the end states to be achieved in business as usual after the end of the project when everything is working just right, and their associated benefits and value. Now you know what you’re trying to achieve.
Your outcome statements must be measurable by a true/false question: Can we or can’t we? Have we or haven’t we? Do we or don’t we? Black or white. You have either fully delivered the outcome or not and if you have not, then you know that at least some of the associated value has been compromised.
Your benefits statements must be measurable in themselves. You should not need separate KPIs to measure the benefits. Non-measurable ‘benefits’ such as avoided costs are thereby exposed as not benefits. You cannot measure what never existed. Avoided costs or lost revenue may be good reasons for doing a project, but they are not benefits.
The financial benefits must be trackable. You must be able to (and actually) track any changes to the financial benefits’ value drivers, the bases and assumptions of the benefits calculations so that you know the up-to-date value of each benefit at any time. Because the value drivers can legitimately change during the project, the financial benefits are the least stable element of your value equation and therefore need to be tracked.
It is not uncommon for a benefit’s value to be halved during the project due to factors well outside the control of the project and governance teams. If this happens, you need to know immediately, not after the end of the project.
You also need to know what activities, what changes are required to deliver your outcomes, benefits and value. Each activity must produce a measurable output. Vague descriptions of ‘what has to be done’ are useless. Each activity must produce some tangible output, the quality of which can be verified as complete. The delivery of 100% complete change activities verified to the quality required and delivered in the period due is the only true measure of progress.
Finally, you need to know the quality of your teams, your project and governance teams. Has the project team been trained in value delivery or only project delivery? Do they think and target success or just task completion and avoiding failure?
Have the sponsor and steering committee members been trained in their governance roles? If they don’t know what to do, when, why and how, the project will be in trouble. (They may think they know, but have they actually been trained?)
For any project you’re involved with, assess whether you have:
- A list of clear, specific and true/false measurable desired business outcomes
- A list of clear, measurable benefits statements
- A set of financial benefit quantifications with clear value drivers that can be (and are being) tracked
- A delivery plan where every activity will deliver a tangible output that can be verified
- A delivery plan that lists the tangible outputs to be 100% delivered each month
- A project team trained in and driven by value delivery and success
- A governance team trained in their role and aware of their accountability to deliver the primary measures of success
Any shortfalls set you up to fail, to deliver a compromised result and/or to increase the delivery costs while decreasing the delivered value. None of these results constitute a ‘successful project’.
This post was originally published as ‘The 7 Prerequisites to delivering successful projects‘ and has been reproduced with permission.