PM 101 — How to Define Project Success Criteria?


Project success is determined by different factors. These factors can usually be measured that will define the success of the project. Project managers need to define the success criteria after collaboration with the end customer. Being on the same page regarding project success criteria can eliminate the risk of project failures and improve the odds of project success.

Defining Project Success Criteria

The project success criteria refer to measurable terms of what should be the outcome of the project that is acceptable to the end user, customer, and the stakeholders. In other words, the project success factors consist of activities or elements that are required to ensure successful completion of the project.

In order to deliver project value, the success criteria should be well defined. Defining the project success criteria should be a practice of conciseness. Avoid vague and general terms such as the product should have efficient features that are desired by the customers. Instead, the success factors should be phrased as “the product should contain X features, or “the product should be completed by X days”.

The three key factors that can define project success include the following.

  • The Iron Triangle (Cost + Scope + Time)
  • Realized Benefits
  • Stakeholder satisfaction.

One of the most common problems when defining project success criteria relates to having a myopic focus on the Iron Triangle, especially relating to the cost and time. Most project managers tend to overlook the benefits and also ignore whether the client is happy. However, focusing merely on the benefits or the client satisfaction is also not the right approach.

Instead, a project manager should try to create a balance. While the focus should be on the iron triangle, the manager should also not lose sight of the realized benefits and stakeholder satisfaction. Successful project delivery depends on the requirements of the project. It requires delivering the objectives and goals of the project.

In order to achieve success, you need to be in agreement with the stakeholders regarding the project goals, objectives, and success criteria.

Documenting the Success Criteria

Apart from defining the success criteria, it is also important to document the criteria for success. Make sure that the documentation of the criteria is done at the start of the project. The document should include:

  • The success criteria
  • How it will be measured
  • How often it will be measured
  • Who will be responsible for measuring the criteria

Also, make sure that the success criteria are properly communicated to the team. The criteria should also reflect on the work management software through effective project planning.

At the end of the day, the success criteria should not be regarded as a set-in-stone. Instead, the manager should strive to go beyond the success criteria and exceed the expectations of the clients. This is a sure-fire way to project success.