Well, let's begin with the triple constraint. It's widely known and accepted that a project is considered successful if it is delivered within the triple constraint: on time, within budget, and according to specifications. Therefore, if Project A was delivered according to specifications, within budget but late; or Project B was delivered on time, according to specifications, but beyond budget -- means both projects were not successful. Right?
That's right. Judging purely from the triple constraint's point of view -- the measure and mind set of "traditional" project management -- both projects were not successful. Well, consider this one, then ...
The Sydney Opera House*
The project was envisioned in 1950s by the New South Wales government. The approved budget was about 7 million Australian dollars and to be constructed in five years.
Five years passed. Budget consumed. No opera house. What happened?
The construction experienced multiple difficulties: terrible conflicts; painful delays; budget overruns.
It was eleven years later when finally the construction of the Sydney Opera House completed; and surprise surprise it consumed more than 100 million dollars! If I stop the story right here, right now -- if you were to judge this project, what would you say? "Unimaginable! A case of total project failure." Totally agree with you.
However, ask every traveller who has been to Sydney and visited the Opera House: How awesome its architecture is. Does anyone care anymore if the project was a total failure because it was delivered 11 years behind the schedule, and under a much-inflated budget? 40 years, since its opening by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, have passed: the Opera House still stands tall as ever -- a beauty beyond compare. A work of wonder visited by millions of tourists every year. And it continues bringing in revenue to the city of Sydney.
Would you still consider it as a project failure?
What about another example: The construction of the Los Angeles Metro*. Designed to be a "world-class" subway system for the Los Angeles community. By triple constraint measures, it was a complete success: completed eight months ahead of schedule, best of all within budget. The project was even selected as "Project of the Year" by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in 1993. However, it failed to attract the community -- they were reluctant to leave their cars at home and use the train instead. Hence, the train usage was significantly lower than expected. Realising there was not much return from its investment, the remaining phases of the project were dropped a few years later.
See the difference?
So, what makes a project successful then? How do you measure it?
Is the triple constraint no longer valid as a project's success measure? In my opinion, it is still valid, but only as a short term measure. In today's dynamic world, success of a project must be assessed by the value that it brings, which often takes time. Therefore, it is advisable to judge a project success beyond its short term goal, because merely meeting time, budget and specification is not the true measure. What's the true measure then? It is how the project, in the long run, contributes to the overall business results; how it brings value.
Beyond time, budget, and specification
Next time, you are tempted to criticise your project team (or yourself as a project manager) just because the project they (or you) manage potentially is not going to meet the triple constraint: take a deep breath, think about the Sydney Opera House. Look beyond time, budget and specification.
Trace back your overall business strategy -- your business expectations -- connect them with your project's goal. How you expect your project output will contribute to your business -- will it help improve operational efficiency, create new market share, or bring in more revenues? See if the long term goal of your project is aligned with these expectations: If so, don't fret: allow delay, adapt to change of scope or specification, and adjust your budget.
This way, you pave a safe path to success for your team and your business.
*A.J. Shenhar and D. Dvir, Reinventing Project Management, Harvard Business School Press
The Sydney Opera House image by Melissa Mu Photography.
About the author:
Fourteena, a trained bid manager and business strategist, is a certified professional in P3O -- Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices. Since 2000, she's been involved in turning numerous business opportunities into projects that delivered outcomes. View her profile http://www.linkedin.com/pub/fourteena-p-d-halim/27/41a/932