5 Ways To Measure Project Success
Project managers often wonder if they are measuring the right things on a project. It’s difficult to know how much time to spend evaluating past performance and how much time to spend on keeping the work moving forward.
Of course there are many indicators of project success, but what do you need to be measuring while the project is in motion?
At various points during the project you want to evaluate five points: schedule, quality, cost, stakeholder satisfaction and performance against the business case. You should be doing this informally anyway. A formal project evaluation is of use during the end of a phase or stage as it can give you a clear indication of how the project is performing against the original estimates. This information can then be used to grant (or withhold) approval from moving on with the next chunk of work.
Let’s look at the five items you should be evaluating.
Project management success is often determined by whether or not you kept to the original timeline. Experienced project managers know how hard that is, but it’s a little bit easier if you continually evaluate your progress as you go.
You’ll update your project schedule regularly – I recommend at least weekly. The schedule evaluation is something you can do more formally at the end of the stage or phase, or as part of a monthly report to your senior stakeholder group or Project Board.
Look at your major milestones and check if they still fall on the same dates as you originally agreed. Work out the slippage, if any, and how much of an impact this will have on your overall project timescales.
The end of a project phase is a good time for a quality review. You can check both the quality of your project management practices – are you following the change management process every time and so on – and also the deliverables.
A quality review can evaluate whether what you are doing meets the standards set out in your quality plans. Best find out now before the project goes too far, as it might be too late to do anything about it then.
Many executives would rate cost management as one of their highest priorities on a project, so evaluating how you the project is performing financially is crucial. Compare your current actual spend to what you had budgeted at this point. If there are variances, look to explain them.
You’ll also want to look forward and re-forecast the budget to the end of the project. Compare that to your original estimate too and make sure it is close enough for your management team to feel that the work is on track. If your forecasts go up too much it is a sign that your spending will be out of control by the end of the project – again, something it is better to know about now.
4. Stakeholder Satisfaction
Your wider team – your stakeholders – are essential in getting much of the work done, so it’s worth checking in with them. Find out how they are feeling about the project right now and what you could be doing differently.
This is a difficult measure to document statistically, although there’s nothing to stop you asking them for a rating out of 10. Even if you are evaluating their satisfaction subjectively, it is still a useful exercise. If you notice that stakeholders are not fully supportive, you can put plans in place to engage them thoroughly to try to influence their behavior.
5. Performance to Business Case
Finally, you’ll want to go back to the business case and see what you originally agreed. How is your project shaping up? Check that the benefits are still realistic and that the business problem this project was designed to solve does still exist. It happens – project teams work on initiatives that sound great but by the time they are finished the business environment has moved on and the project is redundant. No one bothered to check the business case during the project’s life cycle and so no one realized that the work was no longer needed.
Don’t work on something that nobody wants! Check the business case regularly and evaluate it in light of the current business objectives.
You can add other items to this list. In fact, it should reflect what is important to you and your team – you should be evaluating things that matter, so feel free to add extra elements or ditch some of the ones that you are less worried about. If you need help working out what’s important, this article about how to set up project tracking will help.
When your project is over you’ll want to carry out a full and final evaluation. This could be as part of a lessons learned review, but typically it is different. A lessons learned review is where all the project stakeholders comment on what worked and what didn’t. You take away key messages and tasks to improve how projects are delivered in the future. It’s an essential part of project closure, but it isn’t a formal evaluation. You get a lot of feedback, anecdotes and stories but even the most structured lessons learned workshop generally gives you narrative rather than statistics.
A project evaluation is about figures. The stories form part of it too, but a smaller part. During a project evaluation you look at:
- Stakeholder satisfaction
- Performance to business case
Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same list of topics that you evaluate as you go through the project. Anything that you are going to be evaluating at the end should also be assessed during the project’s life cycle, or you risk not hitting the targets you have set for yourself.
You can include your final end-of-project evaluation in your Project Closure Document (get a template here). Note down how close you were to your original timescales, budget and quality targets. Add a few sentences to describe whether your evaluations showed that stakeholders were satisfied with the end result and also if the project met the needs described in the business case.