How do we define and evaluate success in project management?

Change at the individual level can help lead to team and organizational transformation. In order to do so, leaders need to embrace new methods of leadership. Organizational leaders need to provide an environment of empowerment and trust, which in turn, often lead to innovation and change. Through planned growth and talent development, organizations can provide the needed education, training, and tools for individuals and teams to thrive, and prepare for cultural and organizational changes. This helps the organization meet their goals. How is transformation measured? Are we looking at human, and social capital, as well as the bottom line? How are leaders fostering transformative change?


Project effectiveness

Project success criteria are determined at the start of the project, and defined by key business stakeholders in traditional project management (waterfall), and collectively by the product owner, and scrum team in Agile. The success criteria of projects are determined by several factors; was the product, solution, or services, delivered on-time, as expected, and to what level of customer satisfaction. We also look at lessons learned for best practices and areas for improvement. This is done in waterfall at the end of the project, or at lifecycle tollgates. Six Sigma has continuous improvement built into their DMAIC (Design, Measure, Assess, Improve, and Control) methodology. For agile, retrospectives are done at predefined scrum intervals, typically 2-4 weeks. They review the teams performance, ability to meet what they said they could, and also to determine what adjustments the team needs to make. Across methodologies, there may be other project and business Key Performance Indicators considered to determine the success of the project, including financial performance from baseline projections.

Individual effectiveness

An individuals effectiveness is for the most part, gauged through formal and informal feedback loops. Manager evaluations have given way to 360 feedback from peers, customers, other business partners, and their leaders. While its beneficial to have different perspectives, it is often very difficult to assess an individuals full breadth of effectiveness. Most are very reluctant to give open feedback, don’t have the time to complete it, or don’t really have enough interaction with the individual for a fair assessment. What happens is the feedback becomes a series of isolated perspectives. Bits and pieces are known about how the individual performs, but it does not fully represent their capabilities. Leaders often engage in coaching the individual on those areas of opportunities, but not enough attention is given to those areas of strength.

Performance-based Change

Changes like “you need to boost your annual sales by 5%” is quantifiable and much easier to assess, or “you need to increase your customer satisfaction scores” than “you need to communicate more effectively with leaders”. Quantitative measures, while can be attributed to change, don’t have a causal relationship. A different project, different stakeholder, may hold different results, and therefore, giving the impression of change. But perhaps, the earlier feedback was due to circumstances not under that individuals control. Therefore, not a direct correlation or evolution of change. How do we reward the areas in which they excel? With Agile, it may be even more difficult to gauge performance as the teams are self-directed, and self-managing. The team is evaluated as a whole unit. Perhaps, that is the best indication of success, as each team member keeps the others accountable for their contributions to the team. Understanding real opportunities for improvement should be mutually agreed upon by the leader and direct report. By leaders helping to identify these areas, and by providing education, training, and tools to help them get there, will build trust, and show that the leader is a champion for their success. While defining a roadmap for opportunities, we should also be providing a roadmap for their sucesses.


Technology organizations are good at promoting and creating environments conducive to critical thinking and innovation. Perhaps, we can learn from these examples, and leverage some of those free-thinking concepts to change the way we define success and work to energize, motivate, and transform our teams and organizations, one person at a time.

How do we encourage and reward our out-of-the-box thinkers and visionaries?

TED Talks on Change
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