Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

Definition of Project Success

Project success has been historically defined as a project that meets its objectives under budget and under schedule. This evaluation criterion has remained as the most common measure in many industries. But for a development project, success goes beyond meeting schedule and budget goals, it includes delivering the benefits and meeting expectations of beneficiaries, stakeholders, donors or funding agencies. But defining these dimensions of success is more difficult and some can only be evaluated years after the project has been completed, and for many organizations these types of evaluations are difficult to do due to lack of funding.

To help organizations make an assessment of success a distinction must be made between project success and project management success. Project success can be measured as a level of effectiveness, were the project deliverables are measured in terms of benefits and stakeholder satisfaction, in other words the extent to which the project ultimate objectives are attained. Project management success is defined by the level of efficiency the project achieved to reach the project objectives. Efficiency is related to how the project manages its limited resources to meet the goals while building good relationships with internal and external stakeholders. On the other side there are many ways a project can fail, a project can fail in meeting the budget, schedule and scope goals, but be a success in meeting the development objectives, likewise, a project can meet the budget, schedule and scope goals and fail in meeting the final development objectives.

A project can only be successful if the success criteria were defined from the start. When initiating  a project, it's essential to define success across three levels:

·Level 1: Project completion success:  this level details the criteria by which the process of delivering the project outputs is successful. This criteria addresses the four project constraints, scope, schedule, budget and quality. The criteria is limited to the duration of the project and success can be measured during the life of the project and as soon as the project is officially completed. This measures the efficiency of how the project used its resources to deliver the project outputs.

·Level 2: Results success: this is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered is deemed successful (e.g. service is used by all beneficiaries in scope, students attending school, water systems operational, certified teachers, etc.). These criteria need to be measured once the product/service is implemented and over a defined period.

·Level 3: Development success: this is about defining the criteria by which the product/service delivered brings value to the beneficiaries, and how it contributes to their well being (economic, health, social, etc).Examples include income increase by 50%, disease reduction by 25%, etc.

The worst type of failure occurs when the project fails to meet the development objectives. Organizations that are able to meet the criteria of success are characterized by the use and application of a consistent, repeatable and predictable methodology that supports the planning and implementation of development projects and make project management a key competency supported by an environment that nurtures learning.


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Project Management Constraints

Every project has to manage four basic constraints; scope, schedule, budget and quality. The success of a project depends on the skills and knowledge of a project manager to take into consideration these constraints and develop the plans and processes to keep them in balance. It is not enough for a project to meet the budget targets or to show to the donor that all activities have been completed on time. Development projects need to balance all four constraints if they want to realize the full benefits of a project.

Classical project management usually considers three constrains on a project: scope, time and costs (known as the project triangle), we believe that it is important to place under this category the constraint of quality. For development projects it is not enough to deliver a project according to the scope, on time and under budget; but the project must meet the needs and expectation of the beneficiaries who are the ultimate judges of the project quality.

Managing these constrains requires careful analysis and an agreement on the priorities for the organizations, the donor and the final beneficiaries. Depending on those factors a project may place more importance to the budget and quality than to the schedule or scope; these types of decisions, early in the project, have a fundamental impact on all the project plans that will need to be designed to ensure that the project is able to manage the four constraints. Failure to do that may result in the use of resources on areas that do not contribute to the ultimate success of the project.

The definition of project management implies that projects have specific limits in scope, schedule, budget and quality.  Understanding the combination of elements will allow make better choices when the project needs to make tradeoffs. The use of a triangle helps understand these relationships, adjusting any one of these sides, the other two are affected. For example, a change in the project plan to shorten the schedule might result in an increase in costs or require a decrease in scope.


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