Identifying success criteria for your project

The project methodology includes a step that requires identifying success criteria, but how do you actually do that? First, it’s important to understand what the success criteria are. These statements describe what “good” looks like and how you will know when you have achieved your goal. They serve as measures that can be used at the end of a project to demonstrate to stakeholders that all objectives have been met, and the project can be closed.

To identify success criteria, you need to consider the project’s objectives and goals. What are you trying to achieve, and how will you measure success? Success criteria should be specific, measurable, and realistic, and they should align with the project’s overall objectives. They should also be agreed upon by all stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

One useful approach to identifying success criteria is to use the SMART framework, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By applying this framework, you can ensure that your success criteria are clear and achievable, and that they align with the project’s goals and objectives.

Where to look for success criteria
Success criteria in a project will comprise both delivering project deliverables to defined scope and delivering them appropriately. For instance, the software is compatible with IE 11, Chrome, Safari, and Firefox (relating to project deliverables) and ensuring the project cost does not exceed 10% of the original budget (relating to the project process).

Personally, I prioritize success criteria around project deliverables, which are easily identified from the requirements and hold greater significance for project stakeholders. As a professional project manager, it is expected that On Time, On Budget, and On Scope measurements should serve as success criteria, and one should not need a list of criteria to perform the job. However, in environments where these factors are not taken for granted, it may be beneficial to make a list of project process success criteria too. Interestingly, completing a project on budget was the top success criterion in a University of Colorado study, and many project sponsors may use it as a basis to evaluate a project.

When to look for success criteria
Documenting success criteria at the start of a project is crucial in order to have a clear direction of what the project team is working towards. Without defined success criteria, it can be difficult to determine if the project is progressing as planned or if it has been completed successfully.

It is best to include success criteria in the Project Initiation Document or Project Charter so that everyone involved in the project is aware of them. This allows the project sponsor to review and approve them, ensuring that everyone is aligned on what defines a successful project outcome.

Having documented success criteria also allows for regular progress checks throughout the project to ensure that the team is on track to meet the defined goals. It is important to revisit and update the success criteria as needed throughout the project to ensure that they remain relevant and achievable.

Success criteria are not benefits
When identifying success criteria, it’s important to differentiate them from benefits. Success criteria demonstrate that a project deliverable meets the business requirements, while benefits justify the investment in the project. For example, increasing the customer base or improving quality by 20% are benefits that a project could deliver.

Success criteria should be defined at the start of the project and documented in the Project Initiation Document or Project Charter. They can be used to define what “good” looks like and how the project’s completion will be measured. Success criteria can be based on both the project process and deliverables.

It’s important to remember that success criteria are not the same as benefits, but both are important for judging the success of a project. By documenting success criteria early, project managers can ensure that they are working towards a clearly defined goal and can measure their success accordingly.

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