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The Grey Line Between Project Success and Failure

I’ve written a lot about project success factors and thoughts on why projects fail. I've done surveys and received lots of feedback from readers and colleagues. So far, it has all pretty much supported my own thoughts and perceptions on project success determiners. 

Depending on your organization or your customer or even your own perception, the definition of project success or failure can be very different. Usually it’s one of three possible options:

  • On time project delivery
  • On budget project delivery
  • Satisfied customer upon delivery

However, it can sometimes be a little gray. The fine line between project success and project failure may not be that clear. 

Different success perceptions. Case in point - I once led a project for a company where the client was a major airline. The client who was receiving the customized software implementation wanted it done in 90 days – something we had never done before in industries we were familiar with, let alone in the airline industry where our software had never been implemented. A new industry meant new configurations to the software – to promise 90 days was absolutely crazy. What was Sales thinking? What was our company leadership thinking?

In the end, it wasn’t a 90 day implementation. At the 90 day mark I was onsite with a team doing everything we could to get things up and running but there were too many issues – too many things missed in the early requirements phase because we cut it short at the customer’s request based on the fact that they wanted an out of the box implementation. Yeah, right. That really wasn’t the case. Finally, about 90 days later, I finally handed off the system to them $38,000 over budget – most of which the customer did agree to pay. 

Was this project a success or a failure? I felt that it was a huge failure. I know our customer was not very satisfied though they did acknowledge that most of the blame rested with them. My organization’s executive management? They actually considered it fairly successful because we implemented it, received payment for about 95% of the work (meaning we still made a large profit) and we were able to say we implemented our software in a new industry. Yeah! No.

Summary / call for input

What does your company consider to be a successful project? What do you customers look for in a successful project? Is it on time delivery? On budget delivery? End user satisfaction? Something else? 

Readers – what's your experience with this? Please share your thoughts and feedback and let's discuss.

 

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