What does it mean that a project is successful? Is its only criterion the delivery of results within the specified time and the closing of expenses within the planned budget? But what if the realized goal of the project does not meet the client’s expectations? Or otherwise, misses the criteria deemed important by the stakeholders? In today’s article, we discuss the definition of success in project management.

Definition of success in project management – table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Definition of project success
  3. Definition of completion vs. acceptance criteria
  4. KPIS. Lagging indicators
  5. Summary


Each project is governed by its laws. Therefore, as well as the method of project implementation – we need to select and adjust the criteria for success, each time to the specifics of a particular project. On the one hand, it may be crucial to create a technical definition of completion, on the other – acceptance criteria formulated from the point of view of the recipient of the project results. For many projects, on the other hand, it is equally important to create appropriate KPIs, i.e. key performance indicators, which allow a multidimensional assessment of project implementation

Definition of project success

Already while working on the vision for the project, stakeholders are wondering what the definition of success will be. For many projects, timing will be key – after all, what good is organizing a lavish Christmas party for investors if it takes place in January? Perhaps going over budget will be less important in this case than even a one-day time slip.

In the case of the implementation of a charity ball, it may turn out to be quite the opposite – we can postpone the date of the event to reduce the cost of renting the hall. If, again, we are organizing a party aimed at tasting local products, both the time and cost of implementation give way to the priority of quality. We need to balance the organization with the availability of the best seasonal foods.

After all, according to PMBOK, the most important determinant of a project’s success is its outcome as seen from the perspective of the client or, in the case of internal projects, from the perspective of the end user. But how to create a definition of success in project management so that it can accompany the project team as it works on detailed tasks, and at the same time be clear to stakeholders?

success in project management

Definition of completion vs. acceptance criteria

The definition of success in project management is usually created by the Project Manager in cooperation with the stakeholders. They are the ones who must agree to set the criteria that the end result must meet to be considered a success. Their opinion is also crucial when evaluating the result.

It is important, therefore, that when starting a project it is as clear as possible not only what the result should be, but also how it will be checked to see if it meets the criteria for success. To make this point clearer, we will use the terminology used in Scrum projects. These are the “definition of completion” and “acceptance criteria.” The difference between the two can be seen perfectly when we consider the example of a project aimed at creating a company’s website.

The completion definition will provide a technical description of the site: it will be properly secured, it will consist of a home page and four subpages, and there will be a login panel for clients in the header. In other words, with the completion definition, the project team knows what it will be implementing.

On the other hand, by clearly defining the acceptance criteria, the project team knows why it will do all these activities and how the work done will translate into business value. Acceptance criteria will thus be used to check whether the result of the project is satisfactory from the user’s point of view. Using the example above, the website will display easily on various devices and will allow the user to go to the customer panel after entering a username and password.

Returning for a moment to the example of organizing events, the definition of project completion might include, for example:

  • date and place of the event,
  • the number of guests for whom places have been prepared,
  • menu,
  • musical accompaniment provided.

Acceptance criteria, on the other hand, may relate to the expected experience of party participants, for example:

  • the spaciousness of the premises,
  • the quality of the drinks served,
  • simultaneous serving of food to all guests seated at one table.

KPIS. Lagging indicators

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are key determinants of success in project management to assess whether its basic objectives are being met. Lagging indicators can be used to assess the success of project implementation. Predicting the final value of KPIs makes it possible to define the minimum criteria to meet to speak of project success. However, they are only suitable for evaluating measurable results such as:

  • cost of task implementation
  • timeliness of execution
  • the number of man-hours or other resources used to implement the project
  • environmental load
  • translation of labor input into profit for the organization.

There are hundreds of indicators used in management practice for this purpose, their selection at the beginning of the project is therefore one of the important tasks of the Project Manager. After all, the point is not to measure everything, but only what really provides relevant information about the status of the project and success in project management. There should be no more than 20 of them, while in the case of smaller projects their number should not exceed 5.


The success in project management depends not only on the effort put into it, the market situation, and effective leadership. It is also crucial to accurately define what we consider success. And even additional factors that cannot be predicted. After all, from the customer’s point of view, a last-minute improvised solution can be very satisfying. However, let’s better leave improvisation among the bravado strategies of saving projects to the last minute that are in danger of failure, rather than applying thoughtful definitions of success and project completion, and well-formulated acceptance criteria daily.

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Definition of success in project management | #9 Getting started with project management caroline becker avatar 1background

Author: Caroline Becker

As a Project Manager, Caroline is an expert in finding new methods to design the best workflows and optimize processes. Her organizational skills and ability to work under time pressure make her the best person to turn complicated projects into reality.

The most important questions

  1. What criteria are taken into account in defining all projects?

    There is no universal definition of project success, but in almost all of them, the important success factors are simultaneously meeting the completion deadline, meeting the project budget, and delivering a result that satisfies the client.

  2. Can KPIs be used to evaluate a completed project?

    Among KPIs, one can distinguish between advanced and lagging indicators. The former is used to forecast the progress of a project based on the pace of work and use of resources to date. Delayed indicators, on the other hand, are used to summarize the current state - for example, a completed project - based on data collected during its implementation.

Getting started with project management:

  1. What is a project?
  2. What is project management?
  3. How to manage projects?
  4. Project management methods
  5. Types of projects
  6. 4 examples of projects
  7. Prioritization of projects
  8. Areas of project activity
  9. Definition of success in project management
  10. Why use project management software?
  11. How to choose the best project management software?
  12. Overview of project management software
  13. Project life cycle
  14. What is the project vision for?
  15. Project goal. What is it and how to define it well?
  16. Project initiation phase - what to pay attention to?
  17. The domain of planning in project management
  18. What is a project schedule and what is it for?
  19. How to use milestones in a project?
  20. Project execution
  21. How to prepare a successful project contingency plan?
  22. Importance of project closure
  23. Project failure. 5 reasons why projects fail
  24. 4Ps of management: project, product, program and portfolio
  25. Most important tasks and responsibilities of the Project Manager
  26. Most useful project manager skills
  27. How to become a project manager?
  28. 5 books every project manager should read
  29. How to set up a project team?
  30. Work breakdown structure - how to delegate work in a project?
  31. How to lead a team during hybrid work?
  32. Challenges project managers face when working with a team
  33. Types of project meetings
  34. Project monitoring. What parameters to watch?
  35. How to write a compelling
  36. How to define the scope of a project and avoid scope creep?
  37. Feasibility study – can we implement this project?
  38. Risk analysis in projects and tools to facilitate it
  39. How to create a project charter?
  40. What is a stakeholder register?
  41. Gantt chart in project management planning
  42. How to create a project budget?
  43. Time management in project
  44. How to create a project risk register?
  45. Project risk management strategies
  46. Project marketing
  47. Sources and areas of change in the project
  48. Project management change models
  49. What's after Agile? Methods in project management