The Evolving Definition of Project Success

project success
9 Aug 2017

The Evolving Definition of Project Success

Project Success Rates are Rising

Good news often does not travel as fast as bad, and it may surprise you to learn that the annual PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2017 global survey found that project success rates had risen for the first time in five years. The definition of success in this context is delivering projects and programs on-time, on-budget and on-spec or meeting its original objectives. Similarly the report found a significant decline in the lost dollars associated with poor project performance – specifically 20% less than in 2016 – though noted organisations are still wasting an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested.

“At the same time, the definition of success is evolving. The traditional measures of scope, time, and cost are no longer sufficient in today’s competitive environment. The ability of projects to deliver what they set out to do – the expected benefits – is just as important” (reference Executive Summary).

The re-definition of project success is refreshing and relevant for the practice of contemporary project management in a market characterised by an increased pace of change, digitisation and disruption and where the ability to effectively forecast projects is more challenging than ever before.

Project Management Trends

There are four major trends in project management practice reflecting the evolving definition of project success:

  1. Benefits Realisation Management (BRM)

BRM is a major way for organisations to link strategic benefits with program and project objectives and this is achieved not only through better portfolio management practices, but by developing project managers to be more strategic, innovative and critical as an ongoing part of ‘doing their job’ (and doing it better).  Note that 31% of organisations reported high project benefits realisation maturity in the 2017 report.

  1. Tools

Using project management software tools to automate and streamline monitoring and reporting processes is key for reducing manual effort and associated expense and enabling PM’s to focus their effort on more high value activity such as strategic validation, iterative planning, quality control, staff management, and issue rectification.

  1. Methodology

According to the report 71% of surveyed organisation use agile sometimes, often or always. Interestingly waterfall still remains the most popular methodology with 78% using it sometimes, often (39%) or always. Hybrid is probably the fastest growing approach, and an active attempt to optimise the most important benefits of agile whilst retaining the most critical controls embedded in traditional approaches.

  1. Horizon or rolling planning

As trainers in project management that are methodology agnostic, we advocate the value of adaptive project management and emphasise the importance of tailoring the approach to the context and depending on the type of project.

There are four types of projects: (1) hard (construction); (2) research and product development; (3) IT; and (4) soft. Rolling planning is traditionally associated with soft projects such as policy development, health and community projects and which are complex in nature. This approach accepts that scope will be challenged and change and adjusts the planning process and effort accordingly to reduce wasted effort. Specifically you plan for the whole project at the milestone level only – and in detail only for the next period of say 3 – 6 months – i.e. what is on the horizon – and repeat. I would argue that in today’s context that more projects should be classified as ‘soft’ or adopt this approach to iterative planning and other ‘soft’ project practices to be more nimble and effective.

It is great to see innovation and new life being breathed into the age-old, essential and thriving industry of project management.

Elemental Projects specialises in project management professional development and can assist with training and qualifications, e-learning, video production, project simulations and more. To find out how we can support your or your teams professional development to enhance project success, please contact