Group of Eight Australia
Australia's Leading Universities
     Modules     Organiser  

Module 8: Project Closeout

3.1 What is a successful project?

Project success is defined by the project's various stakeholders. Different stakeholders, including the project team, will have different views on what represents success for them. Their various requirements (critical success factors) should have been documented and built into the overall project plan from the outset. If they were, it will be possible to objectively evaluate whether the project has met all the critical success factors for each of the stakeholders specified. If they weren’t, assessing success will be much more problematic and generally more subjective in nature.

The difficulties involved in assessing project success from several points of view have traditionally led to a focus on success being measured in terms of budget and schedule. These are more easily quantifiable and tangible measures than, say, measures of awareness, and are important internal measures of efficiency. However, they do not reflect the activities of the whole project and, assessed in isolation, can be misleading because:

  • A project can be run efficiently but not meet customer or organisational expectations


  • A project can deliver the specified technical outcomes but can run over time and over budget.

Therefore, a project closeout needs to include an evaluation of several criteria that contribute to the success of a project, not just measures of efficiency and equally, not just measures of technical success.

3.1.1 Success criteria measures

Criteria for assessing the success or otherwise of a project must be measurable and must have the same meanings for both granting agency and the members of the research project team.  Criteria for success should ideally be agreed at the project definition phase. A common approach for developing such criteria is to use the so-called SMART method, where SMART is an acronym standing for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable/Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

The SMART method is widely used in checking and evaluating goals and objectives, but can be usefully applied to developing success criteria. Criteria such as "high quality" should not be used, as quality is subjective. Criteria such as target dates, performance levels, accuracy and functionality can all be quantified and are therefore preferred for inclusion in success criteria and to enable the project funder to accept that the project requirements have been met and that the project can be considered to be finalized.

The table below gives examples of measurable criteria, in a business / service delivery context.

Table 3.1: Examples of measurable criteria

Benefit Quantified Metrics
To comply with legislation Sign off by compliance authority
Avoided fines
Provide a more efficient and effective operation Number of patients seen per day
Staff cost per patient
Provide better service to the public Response time for enquiries
Time required to obtain information
Avoid or reduce future costs Estimates of capital cost
Estimates of running cost
Modernise the working environment and conditions for staff Benchmark against standards and guidelines for relevant work environment
Improve communication within and beyond the organisation Speed and cost of communication
Number of communication channels and communications
Awareness of key communication messages
Number or % of people who can access services remotely
Reduce the effort required to follow up mistakes and complaints Cost of servicing complaints
Number of people and time assigned to managing complaints/mistakes
Improve the quality of information and decision-making Speed of access to information
Completeness and timeliness
Take advantage of new technology Operational gains and cost savings for each specific business division
Increase the motivation of staff Staff turnover measures
Number of errors
Recruitment costs
Sick leave

Source: Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, UK, Guidelines for Managing Projects, August 2007

3.1.2 Achieving all the target outcomes from research projects

Research projects do not usually lead to immediately realisable products and services. There are usually other steps necessary to realise such outcomes. The impact of timing therefore on project success is much more difficult to assess for research projects. Nonetheless, for the organisation doing the research the possible benefits can also be split into two components.

  • The immediate [and possibly commercial] outputs of the project,
  • The potential outcomes created by the project in the future.

Whilst the immediate success of achieving specified project outputs is obvious, the potential outcomes of a research project are often a long way in the future and assessing their impact is challenging. Some organisations have policies in place for dealing with research projects where it is not expected that the desired outcomes would be achieved in less than 5 years from project closeout. Clearly they do not expect the project team to still be in place after this period of time, so strategies have been developed to ensure that the benefits are assessed. This can include scheduled reviews undertaken over a period of time.

< Previous Next >