Was Your Project Successful – Within Tolerances?

Estimating the time and cost is an important part of project planning. If you estimate a project to cost $230,000, is your project a failure if the actual cost is $230,500? You missed your budget, right? Yes, but this gets into the concept of tolerances. If you delivered within $500 on a $230,000 budget, you should be lifted on your manager’s shoulder and paraded around the company as a hero.
Your company needs to establish the tolerance level that they consider to be reasonable for projects. For example, the tolerance level may be -10% to +10%. That is, if you deliver the project 10% over budget, it is still considered a success. For the $230,000 project, that means you could have gone overbudget by $23,000 and still have been considered successful.
Normally there is some room for tolerances with your deadline as well. In most cases, you can deliver a little late and still be considered successful. Of course, not all projects have that flexibility. Some projects do have a fixed end date that cannot be moved. But many projects have some flexibility.

project success

Declaring Success From a Project Perspective

Once you understand your tolerances (if any), you can start to evaluate success from a project perspective. Generally, the project team members can declare success if:
1) The project is delivered within the estimated cost, plus or minus the tolerance.
2) The project was delivered within its deadline, plus or minus the tolerance.
3) All of the major deliverables were completed. (Some minor ones, or minor functionality, might not be delivered.)
4) The overall quality is acceptable. (It does not have to be perfect.)
Other factors may be important for specific projects. For instance in a construction project, safety might be a key success component.

Declaring Success from a Company Perspective

From a company perspective, success is also based on whether the company received the business value that was promised. There are many examples of projects that were completed successfully, yet are not delivering the value promised. It is possible that the return on investment calculations were faulty, or the marketplace was misjudged by the sponsor. We believe that success against the project business value, as defined in the Business Case, is ultimately the responsibility of the sponsor – not the project team.