What is (Project) Success in a High Maturity Organization?

Project success is measured by comparing the actual performance with what was budgeted, planned and committed – typically with respect to parameters of cost, schedule and quality. Projects that meet all parameters are considered completely successful, and those that meet some parameters are considered less successful. Projects that fail in most/ all parameters are labeled as failures. Of course, sophisticated systems may even use the extent to which they missed the objectives (near miss or missed by a mile/ kilometer) as a factor in determining the degree of success or failure.

Is this really how a high maturity (HM) organization (in terms of the CMMI® framework) should evaluate project success? I believe that the refinement in process and project management maturity should be used to fine-tune how we evaluate success.

A HM organization is “aware” that all processes have variations inherent in them. It “knows” that projects (that are composed of the processes) have a probability of achieving success in their objectives, but success is not guaranteed. The role of project management (esp. QPM) is to continually evaluate the probability of success and maximize the conditions to improve that probability.

When a single project goes through its life, those probabilities will play out. Which means that even if the probability of completing the project within its budget was 90%, a single project can overshoot the budget. Of course, if we run similar projects millions of times, only 10% of the projects will overshoot the budget; but we have only one project here. In such an “aware” organization, is the use of “actual budget compliance” a right way to measure success? If so, how is this organization different from a non-HM organization?

I believe that in a HM organization, project success should not be measured by after-the-fact results, but by the rigor and continual alignment of the project to maximize the probability of success. So, in a HM organization, a project is successful, if and only if:

*    The project, at start-up, consciously makes choices (composes the defined process, aligns plans) that maximize the probability of meeting its multiple objectives

*    The project continually evaluates the probability of meeting the objectives and revises its choices to maximize its probability of success

Now, in such an organization, the “best project” award may be given to a project which in the conventional sense has actually failed 🙂 – such an organization would be truly acting on the belief- “if we implement the process, the results will eventually follow”.

Your comments?


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

3 thoughts on “What is (Project) Success in a High Maturity Organization?”

  1. But, lets give this a spin! What is the definition of Project Failure? I hate to use the word “Failure” as, it is dangerously relative and also it seems it sounds condescending in its tone to people in real world. They are ok to accept say, “Trouble Project” “Failure” – has it failed to satisfy the client, Failed to meet Budget….etc etc. So, there are a bunch of reasons why the projects miss deliveries or are not able to meet the commitments. key is to look for what causes these conditions than to christine them as “Failed”

    I am now engaged in a situation where I am leading an investigation team just to discover these conditions on projects that have shown so called “failure patterns’

    Just my view.

  2. Hi Rajesh,
    Have put in an excellent thought process rolling.
    One aspect which needs attention is objective definition during project startup. Objectives defined needs to be enhanced by considering all stakeholders “Needs”, including Customer.
    Even with project not achieving success under standard definition, could be termed as “Success” with all stakeholders like Customer & Senior Management being highly satisfied

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