What Does Success Look Like?

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

One of the first questions I ask when I am working with an organization on developing a proposal for a project is, “What does success look like?” I want to understand from them what the organization, product, business area or similar will be like when the project is deemed successful. I want them to describe how people will interact, how work will be done, how customers will interact with the product, etc.

That provides a much more complete picture of what the project needs to deliver than simply writing down a list of requirements. It moves beyond the things to be built and improved, and considers how those things will be interacted with. I also find it a critically important part of establishing the benefits that are expected. Those will be documented in the business case as the return on investment, and they inform the costs that can be allocated from the overall investment budget while still justifying the project. Yet it’s a question that very few organizations ask themselves, and it’s a question many of the organizations I ask struggle to answer.

The problem is we tend to think of projects as solutions to specific problems. Even if we think in terms of the business benefits a project is expected to enable, it tends to be very specific: revenue growth, cost saving, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that—those are the “headline&…

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"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."

- Albert Einstein