“Tell me about a successful project you’ve run.”

“Tell me about a project you’ve been a part of that was not successful. What happened?”

These are two very subjective questions that a Digital Project Manager may hear as part of a job interview or that a sales team may hear as part of a sales pursuit. How do you answer those questions when success means something different to everyone involved? This post will discuss tips for how to align on the right measurement strategies to ensure a successful project delivery.

A user experience designer may feel a project was unsuccessful because a client decided not to adopt the information architecture (IA) structure they recommended. A developer may feel the project was a huge success because they were able to implement a new technology they’ve never worked with before. The client CMO may feel the project was a success because the page hits increased by 10%. However, the client business owner may feel the project failed because the content was difficult to enter.

And the Project Manager? Well, the project was a week late, 5% under budget and all the defined scope was delivered – so does that mean it was successful? The truth is, you can’t measure success on any one of these items; success is determined by the collective sum of all these results. But if you don’t take the time at the onset of the project to align on what success looks like you may be shocked when the client doesn’t want to do another project with your company.

1. Align Early


Before a project ever kicks off, i t’s important for the internal team to understand what success needs to look like. If your design, strategy, development and quality assurance teams don’t agree on success, how can you expect to confidently discuss overall project status with the client? Likewise, in your initial discussions with your client it’s important to get their success criteria clearly defined. Often times you find out that the CIO has a very different definition of success than the CMO. While that may make for a slightly awkward discussion, it’s better to get that out on the table and gain alignment before the project gets rolling rather than 6 weeks from deployment when you find out one of the stakeholders is expecting something very different than what you’re delivering.

Image-2While discussing these success criteria, it’s also vital to distinguish between the long term versus short term success goals. Initially, you may find out that as long as you launch by a certain date, everything will be considered a success; but long term, if the project does not result in a 10% increase in online revenue within 6 months, the project will be labeled as a big, fat fail. Getting both of those criteria defined helps to set the tone for what the teams need to focus on; you now know that scope can be cut to maintain a date, but any scope reduction should not be around the e-commerce portion of the site.

2. Remove Subjectivity

Image-3Often times we are so scared to fail that we start to look at project progress through rose colored glasses. Maybe approval on creative concepts was 4 days late, then revisions to the sitemap took a week longer than originally anticipated; it might be tempting to say, “that’s ok, we have some buffer built in later so we can make it up.” Then a little later in the project, complications with an integration point come up, and some JavaScript makes the site render odd on a smartphone. All of the sudden – you’re three weeks behind schedule. It might sound harsh – but positivity can kill a project.

By using earned value metrics you can objectively measure how the team’s current performance will impact the project outcome. Through a combination of earned value, actual costs and planned value, you get indices for both schedule and cost that help guide a constructive conversation with both your internal team and the client to show the true impact to a project when these “little things” come up throughout the course of the project.

3. Stay Flexible


No project is ever going to go perfectly – especially projects in the digital space. Technology across devices, browsers, and operating systems change faster than you can keep track of, and just when you’re getting comfortable with a new UX or design pattern, the winds of change pick up again. Because of that, just measuring success by the numbers, or solely relying on your gut will set any project up for failure. In Digital Project Management, you have to be comfortable with change, you have to be comfortable flexing, and you have to be able to know when to sound the alarm at the appropriate moment.

4. Communicate Early and Often

Image-5Clear communication is the key to any project success. Understanding your organization’s project success goals, your team’s project success goals, and facilitating your client’s project success goals through defining success criteria will allow you to ebb and flow through your project. Whether it’s a 6-week engagement or an 18-month partnership, clearly documenting what success means, then tracking to and communicating progress against those goals is the only way ensure success.

Image-6At the end of the day, you may be four months late, 15% over budget, and have removed 5% of the user stories from scope, but the project is still a success because the end product was a beautiful new responsive design, built on a modern technology platform with net new functionality. And along the way you used the metrics and team input to clearly and transparently communicate with your client the progress, challenges and risks, and you made decisions together as to which success criteria mattered the most.