Success and Failure of Projects

Micro Learning Unit

A successful project is defined as a project that meets its goals, and whose output is of value to the client. It seems, then, that the success or failure of any given project is primarily a function of its goals. Therefore, a clear definition of those goals and an objective way to measure whether or not these goals have been met are crucial for measuring the success of the project.

The sad reality is that, statistically speaking, the vast majority of projects—regardless of the field of expertise—fail to meet their content, time and budget targets, and are therefore failures. However, in order to understand what this failure means, it is important to distinguish between the project and its output.

The most common scenario is that the project fails to meet the objectives set out in the Triangle (scope, time, and cost), but that the output itself is successful, so we forgive ourselves since “the bottom line is”, or “at the end of the day”, or “when put to the test”, we achieved the value we set out to achieve. The question is did we achieve the value through a good investment of resources or would it have been better to invest these resources in a different project that might have yielded a higher value?



The most common scenario is that the project fails to meet the Triangle’s targets, but the output produced by the project is a success



When the output produced by the project is a failure, the entire project is a failure, even if the Triangle’s targets were all met



The ideal scenario: the output and the project are both successful

It is important to remember that although the most common scenario is that the product or the service succeeded, while “only” the project failed, the opposite can never be true.

It is not possible for a project to succeed—even if it did not deviate from any of its goals—while the resulting product or service fails. This is simply because the primary test of whether a project is a success is whether the output produces value for the client. An output that does not provide any value is nothing less than money thrown away, regardless of our level of responsibility for this state of affairs.

It is possible to represent the value for the client as a ratio between the cost of the project and the output’s usefulness, so that if the usefulness is zero, the cost can be any number at all—from small to infinitely big—and the value for the client will remain zero.

It is imperative that we not only pass the output test but also succeed with our investment in the project whose goal it was to produce that output. Therefore, we must ensure that the project goals are clear, achievable, and agreed upon; that we have the necessary commitment from all project stakeholders; that we have all the resources necessary to execute the project; and that the project manager is the right person for the job.

If it is important for us to succeed not only in the outcome of the project, but also in our investment in the project, we must ensure that:

  • The goals of the project are clear, achievable and agreed upon
  • We have the necessary commitment from the stakeholders in the project
  • We have the necessary resources to carry out the project
  • The project manager is the right person for the task.