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THE ASSESSMENT OF SUCCESS OVER TIME
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One frequent error that many organizations slip into when assessing the performance of their project development is to make inadequate allowances for the impact of time on a project s viability To illustrate, consider a real-life situation in which a company was determining the success of a recently completed hardware computer development project Based on internal cost accounting data, the project looked good: It had come in on time and only slightly over budget Further, the hardware performed as it was intended to perform As a result, the project manager was given a performance bonus and reassignment for a job well done Unfortunately, the story does not end there The project, while internally efficient, was a disaster in the marketplace from its first introduction The technology that the company had assumed would be adequate, turned out to be so user unfriendly that the product was withdrawn within nine months This story illustrates a number of the problems we face in studying the causes of failure First, this project was not seen as a failure at all; in fact, just the opposite The second problem had to do with the incomplete picture of project expectations that top management painted Obviously, client satisfaction was never a concern of the project manager who naturally, devoted his time to the measures that did matter for his performance appraisal: schedule, budget, and performance Finally, this story demonstrates a subtler third point: It is important, in the absence of full information, not to assume that a project is a success or failure too early in its life, before the final returns have had an opportunity to come in
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Page 69 We do not only mean to suggest that many projects deemed successes are, in fact, failures The reverse is also true: Many projects that give every evidence of being instant failures may actually demonstrate themselves to be long-term successes One example that comes immediately to mind is the well-known English Channel tunnel project, known as the Eurotunnel, or Chunnel Opening in 1994, nearly 18 months behind schedule (late enough to miss the vital summer traffic season), the Chunnel project was originally budgeted for 75 billion pounds The final bill, at 15 billion pounds, was more than twice the initial projection From an internal auditing perspective, the Chunnel represented a financial nightmare, particularly when it defaulted on the bond financing made by the initial investors in the venture Nevertheless, looking at the project in regard to its long-term potential, we must admit that its contribution to society may be significant; in effect, leaving the judgment of project success or failure in the hands of future generations This case illustrates a central idea regarding project success and failure: the importance of balancing immediate assessment against long-term project viability Clearly, there are definite benefits involved in waiting until after the project has been completed and is introduced to its intended clients before assessing the success and impact of the system On the other hand, we must be careful in not waiting so long to determine a project s external impact that the possibility exists of other organizational or external environmental factors influencing the organization s operations to the point where we are unable to determine the relative impact of the project in the marketplace For example, in the field of computer hardware development, product launch windows are often calculated in terms of months; either a computer is introduced during a favorable launch period or that company will be so far behind the technology and marketing curve that they may just as well not bother with the project at all In this hyper-shortened timeframe, a successful project is
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Page 70 assessed within months of its introduction In contrast, the viability of Denver s new International Airport may not become clear until years into the future In the meantime, a number of factors external to the project itself (eg, the price of jet fuel, profitability of major airlines, or demographic patterns within the city itself) will either elevate the airport project to dramatic success or condemn it to white elephant status Figure 31 illustrates the difficulty faced by project managers and their organizations2 This figure shows a simple time line, demonstrating the point at which various aspects of project success can be evaluated At the earlier stages in the implementation process, the typical assessments of success tend to revolve around those previously mentioned internal organizational factors, such as adherence to budget and schedule, performance capabilities, project team cooperation and productivity, and project team-parent organization relationships The loop in the system represents the instance or instances when periodic assessments of these internal
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