Success Redefined


The Standish Group has redefined project success as onTime, onBudget with a satisfactory result. Success is hard to define and we had a hard time coming to this conclusion.  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as the fact of getting or achieving wealth: respect or fame: the correct or desired result of an attempt; someone or something that is successful: or a person or thing that succeeds.  The Project Management Institute (PMI) has defined success as onTime, onBudget, and onTarget also known as the Triple Constraints and the Iron Triangle.  However, we have seen many projects that have met the Triple Constraints and did not return value to the organization or the users and executive sponsor were unsatisfied.  

We will soon be releasing the Factors of Success paper that will highlight and use our new definition of success. For the last 20 years each project in the CHAOS database had a single rating system. Successful projects were considered onTime, onBudget and onTarget with some reasonable flexibility. Challenged projects were considered late, over budget or did not meet the target. Failed projects were canceled or not adopted by the users.  A Standish Advisor with our set of special rules adjudicated all projects.  These same advisors spent the first half of 2014 coding our CHAOS database with the following separate attributes: onTime, on-budget, on-target (% requirements) and satisfied (very high to very low), value (very high to very low) and on strategic corporate goal (precise to distant).  

The road to the decision to change the definition of success was not done lightly or quickly.  It was a long and winding road.   We did a number of surveys, work groups, and interviews.  Some of these interviews you can listen to on CHAOS Tuesday.  Survey results can be viewed in the CHAOS Manifesto 2014. We considered just satisfaction or in combination with value.  We considered just value or in combination with onTime or onBudget.  Since each attribute is a separate field we have the flexibility to look at the data in many different ways.  In the end we decided to redefine project success as onTime, OnBudget with a satisfactory result.

 The Standish Group believes that organizations should forget the triple constraints and focus on the value of their project portfolio, not individual projects. In this regard we have created our Value Portfolio Optimization and Management Service. This is a complete service for organizations to outsource their project portfolio optimization and management to us on a continuous basis. Our capability is based on a research database of 50,000 projects, that provides our insight into a broad set of projects and patented optimization formula. This service will reduce overall project costs, decrease management frustrations, increase innovation, and increase the value of the organization’s portfolio as much as 50%. Please see the Exceeding Value research report.

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Subject Matter

Executive Sponsor

About the Author:


Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.

Jim Crear

Jim is the chief information officer and architect for The Standish Group International. He is an experienced executive with over 40 years of experience in the field of Information Technology. He has had a diverse career leading IT organizations in academia, biomedical, manufacturing, and software companies.

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