Organisations don’t define failure. We don’t document how we will know if a project has failed – what failure looks like – because thinking about failing is not a good way to motivate the project team when the work has only just started. The absence of a formal definition of failure makes it uncomfortably easy for internal and external stakeholders to brand projects a failure. This reaction normally relates to projects that are over budget and don’t deliver on time, like London’s Jubilee tube line. That project was £1.5 billion overspent and delivered 2 years late. It ‘failed’ because, in the view of the media and some key stakeholders, the most important criteria for project success are delivery on time and on budget.
Successful organisations take the guesswork out of this process: they define what success looks like, so they know when they have achieved it. Forget how it appears to the outside world, it is your company, and your project team, that need to define what success means for your project. Perhaps you don’t care how long it takes, or how much it costs, provided the quality is second to none, or your customers are satisfied, or nobody has to work overtime in getting it done.
Whatever the definition, it is your definition, and one that the project team has to agree on. This takes the form of documenting how you will know when you have been successful. The documentation of critical success criteria per project is essential, otherwise how will you know if your project has been successful if you haven’t defined what success looks like?
Next time: the two types of success criteria
All the posts in the Failing projects series: