On The ‘Success’ Of A Project

I recently saw this question asked and answered in an after-project retrospective paper.

Was The Project A Technical Success?

While I am not trying to address who asked the question or what the answer was, the question on it’s on own, is flawed in my mind. Or, at least when taken out of context, it has become somewhat of a fallacy by standing on its own.

Not ‘Technical’, But ‘Operational’

The question we should be asking first is not about ‘technical’ success, but ‘operational’ or ‘business solutions’ success:

Was The Project An Operational Success?

That is to ask, did we effectively reduce or solve the stated business problems to an acceptable level, allowing the users of the application – the operational people – to be more accurate, efficient, productive, responsive, … etc, in their job? Only when we can answer “yes” to the project being an operational success, and provide sufficient evidence of this success, should we ask if the project was a technical success.

If we created the world’s most perfect architecture, design and implementation, but the project was a DOA failure because it did not solve or sufficiently reduce any stated business problems, resulting in no one to buy it or use it; what good would it be to have the perfect system from a technical standpoint?

The counter-perspective, though, is just as important. If we have managed to solve or sufficiently reduce the stated problems then we need to ask if we did so in a manner that allows us to maintain this system for the long-term life of it. Were we successful in our technical implementation of the business solution, thereby allowing us to continue solving additional / ancillary business problems, easily and efficiently?

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

We can’t sacrifice the needs of the business to create what we believe is a successful technical implementation. Yet, we can’t sacrifice the technical implementation just to satisfy the needs of the business. There is a marriage between the two – they are (or should be) two sides of the same coin. If we fail on either aspect and are not able to recover quickly, we will eventually fail as a project / product team.

Management vs Leadership