Project versus PM success

Posted on 16th May, by JimYoung in Blog. Comments Off on Project versus PM success

When we think of success, there is a difference between PM success and project success. The former is about meeting deadlines, sticking to a schedule, staying under budget and providing outputs (also called deliverables or products and services) that are built and perform to specifications. This requires PM expertise. On the other hand, project success is about achieving outcomes and measurable benefits created by the outputs during their operational life. Thus benefits usually arise after the project proper is closed and sometimes a considerable time later. The ideal result is both project success and PM success.


An often-mentioned and most successful project is the Sydney Opera House.  With its graceful sails dominating Sydney Harbour it’s one of the most recognisable buildings in the world and was clearly a most successful project. It’s an icon with World Heritage recognition, yet, from a PM perspective, it was a spectacular failure. When construction started in 1959, it was estimated to cost $7 million, and take four years to build. It was finally completed in 1973 for over $100 million, which was about 1500% over budget and nearly 300% behind time. Yet the Opera House now adds $775 million to the Australian economy every year in ticket sales, retail and food spending, and by boosting tourism.


The US-based PM Institute describes a project as “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result” and the UK government PRINCE2 methodology describes a project as “a temporary organisation created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case.” The shortcoming of these definitions is that they aren’t specifically focused on the purpose of the project, which is to deliver the benefits that validate our investment. So I prefer to describe a project as simply “a benefits-driven investment.” Yet, while the focus should be benefits, projects are usually named after their products, which can create the impression that the product is the sole purpose of the project. Also, since outcomes and benefits are often only realised some time after a project is finished, it is easy for PMs to become overly product focused, since PM success is mostly about producing the specified product on time and within budget.

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