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How often do you think about what a good project really means? What is good? Who decides if it is good, and when is it possible to establish if a project is good?

Failed projects are easy to recognize. The tunnel through the Halland ridge in Sweden is a good example. In fact it is an excellent example! Other projects can be seen as successful failures. The Sydney Opera house is the mot famous one. Although the project required far more time than estimated and turned out 15 times more expensive, it is still successful since the impact objectives were met.

Another, maybe not as obvious, example is the tunnel under the English Channel that turned out six times more expensive than estimated, and was delayed 18 months. It is still considered a successful project – “a gift to future generations”!

The examples above are very clear. It can be hard to establish if a project really is delayed or has exceeded budget. What budget? And delayed in relation to what? The goals and the framework are many times established on a very defective foundation, sometimes by pure guesswork and fantasies that are completely unrealistic and impossible to meet. But both delays and problems with meeting the budget still occur!

Not just the scope triangle
Keeping the budget and schedule and meeting the obligations, i.e. the points of the famous scope triangle, is what normally is emphasized when we talk about the criteria of a successful project. But of course this isn’t enough. Other effects of a project can be just as important or even more important!

For example:
- Business benefits – A good deal
- Environmental effects – Positive effects on the environment
- Reference projects – A satisfied client leading to the possibility of future business
- New forms of cooperation with partners/deliverers
- Creative solutions which can be useful in upcoming projects
- The building of knowledge and experience

During the start-up of a project it is therefore important to clarify which main criteria the project and project group will be measured up against. Here the clients could formulate the objectives in a more pronounced way to maybe stimulate the search for innovative solutions. If we go back to the triangle all parties must agree upon where the main point is. What is of highest priority? This knowledge is not only necessary at the planning of the project but also serves as guidance at daily priority decisions made in a project. If time and performance are given priority at the expense of costs we can make decisions and choose alternatives that cost more as long as we can deliver faster or better.

The impact scope is the most important
A key question when you decide whether a project is successful or not is asking who initiated the project and why. What impact and use is desired from the project result? The project is just a mean to attain something bigger and this is why the impact scope really is the most important when we decide whether a project is successful or not. “Failed projects” that don’t exactly manage to meet the determined required aims can after a while, when the project is evaluated, turn out to be successes since they very well met the impact scope.
Unfortunately, this reasoning will not be valid in client order projects. Even if the project is successful with all impact scopes met for the client, it can still be a disaster for the deliverer. In this kind of project there are several impact scopes to take into consideration. The client and the deliverer, maybe an IT-consultant, therefore have to create a win-win-situation where both parties are allowed to carry through a good project and meet their own individual impact scopes. The budget is often given a far too great importance at the expense of quality and performance. Forced agreements and a tough budgetary rigour don’t work as instruments of control in projects where the objectives are in constant change and flexibility is the keyword.

Finally – analyze the terminated project! Not learning from passed projects is a reliable way to fail in the building of experience! Take time to think about why this one project succeeded or failed. What made it work out well or what made it go wrong? You can learn something from every project as long as you take some time for reflection.

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Comment by Robert Rojas on July 1, 2010 at 3:19pm
I wonder if the high percentage of project failure often reported includes those projects that are over budget and late for any reason but meet and or exceeds all performance expectations,

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