I was in a meeting yesterday reviewing a business requirement document for a new marketing database project, and a discussion came up about the success criteria of the project.  In the development world, every project should have a clear-cut beginning and end. Although the financial success of a project can be clearly measured through obtaining a positive ROI, the physical success of the project should be measured by the ability to both deliver on the stated business requirements and achieve the success criteria that has been defined by the line of business users. The success criteria should be well-defined, achievable, measurable and clearly stated in the business requirements document.  After all, if the project is completed but it provides no net value to the line of business users, is the project truly a success?

When working with line-of-business users to define the success criteria of a project, subjective phrases which can’t be measured are often are given as the basis for success.  I’ve seen users come back with something similar to “I want the system to be easy to use and I want my reports fast”.  Another user may state “I want easy access to my data”.  All of these statements are too subjective, cannot be measured and could potently take a project into the black hole of scope creep if the success criteria are too ambiguous. 

What does a “fast” system or “easy access” really mean? Fast to some might mean days vs. weeks, while to others it might mean seconds vs. minutes.  Easy access to some might mean single-sign on while to others it might mean via the web or mobile device.  In order to set realistic goals and achievable deliverables, ensure that the success criteria of the development project are stated in a way that can be measured.  Instead of stating “A system which is easy to use,” you might rephrase this as “A web based system which is single-sign on that can be accessed via any browser-based desktop or mobile device.” Instead of saying “Reports should be fast,” be sure to set measurable and achievable success criteria such as “All reports should return results in less then 2 minutes once system processing is complete.” Now, these statements set clearly defined, achievable and most importantly, measurable definitions of success. 

Just remember that when working on a development project, you want the project to be a success for both the development team as well as the line-of-business users.  Having clearly defined, achievable and measurable success criteria from the line of business will ensure that everyone is on the same page as to the definition of success for the project and will provide the development team with a clear understanding of the business expectations of the final product.