What is a Successful Project?

How to define project success in any industry

By Brandon Bronkhorst

Business Analyst

We all know that project success depends on timeline, budget and delivery of features, right?


It’s possible to achieve favorable results in all three of those aspects and still have an unsuccessful project.

What, then, is project success? In personal development as well as in software development, success is the accomplishment of value-based goals.

In order to accomplish value-based goals, we need to understand the path that leads there.

Do you know your client?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aware as, “having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge.” If you want to be a partner rather than a vendor, you must be aware of your client.

  • What is your client’s mission statement?
  • What are your client’s core values?
  • Who are your client’s competitors?
  • Has your client been in the news lately?

You should know the answers to these and other similar questions before a project even begins, so you can concentrate your energy on understanding and defining value rather than gaining awareness.

Think back to when you started your first job. You walked into work on your first day feeling anxious — there was juxtaposition of excitement and nervousness. The facilitator of your on-boarding gave you information on your health insurance, vacation policy, dress code, company values and so much more. Throughout the day you met face after face and you tried to remember everyone’s name and job title. Even if you did manage to remember all the people you still didn’t understand how they related to your job responsibilities, which is need-to-know information. Do you report to any of them directly? Indirectly? Does Bob work on your team or is he on a different team that you will work with frequently? Your brain is overloaded and you haven’t even learned about the job you were hired to do and how you are going to add value to your employer yet.

Did you retain all the information you received on your first day? Not likely.

When you start a new job you go through a period of time when you are getting acclimated to the company and how you fit in that company.

When you start working with a new client you go through a similar acclimation period before you can start adding value. What if you could skip that period and proceed directly to adding value?

LinkedIn is an incredibly vast source of information — the first thing I do when I start working with a new client or stakeholder is review their profile. It gives me a head start on building a relationship. I can easily learn their college major, any causes they are passionate about, the industries they’ve been in and their longevity at the current organization. Then when I meet them for the first time my brain doesn’t have to deal with remembering that extra information because I’ve already acquired it.

The same concept can be applied to the company itself. By doing some simple internet research I find my client’s mission statement, core values, recent news articles and history. I can get a feel for the client and their industry which allows me to understand the intent behind their decision-making and business requirements.

Business analysts use techniques like benchmarking and market analysis, document analysis, current state analysis, competitive analysis, stakeholder lists, maps, or personas, SWOT analysis, and good old-fashioned curiosity: one of the most prominent characteristics of an effective business analyst.

As an added bonus, the more you know about something, the more likely it is that you will be passionate about it. Passion breeds solutions; it’s the difference between solving a problem effectively and executing a defined solution that may or may not add value.

Now how can you add value, and what is value, really?


Don’t get caught scope-thinking; it’s dangerous. It results in missed opportunities to add value.

To add value to something is to leave it better than you found it. Features can add value but don’t add value inherently. Having more features does not equal more success. Timeline, budget and features are measures of execution — they are not measures of value.

One of the most important aspects of business analysis is defining the right value to satisfy the business need. According to A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, “Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.”

Scope-thinking is dangerous because it doesn’t give you a holistic picture of your client and their needs. Constraint is, of course, inherent to the definition of scope and it limits the effectiveness with which you can define and solve problems. Although you may be executing within a specific scope, do not think only within that defined scope.


So if timeline, budget and features are not project goals, what are the project goals?

Your client came to you so you can to add value to their company. They defined a need, allocated the funds and selected a partner that they believe can satisfy their need. It is imperative that project goals are based on adding value, not on just executing the project.

A goal is a destination and a value is a direction. Basing goals on value defines the most efficient path to achieve your project goals.

Most of us have set a personal goal which we failed to achieve... you know those New Year’s resolutions that I’m talking about. I’ve often found that in many cases the reason I failed to achieve a goal is because my goal wasn’t based on something that I value. Value is what defines your direction towards the goal, and understanding that value helps you stay focused and pointed in the right direction.

Business analysts help clients define value, ensure that goals are set based on those values, and trace those goals throughout the project to make sure that it doesn’t veer off the path.

Value-based goals are the key to a successful project.


At the beginning of this blog I told you that success is the accomplishment of value-based goals; goals must be based on value for a project to be successful. With that in mind, it’s easy to define what a successful project is.

Gain as much knowledge about your client as possible, define the value you can add, create goals based on that value and accomplish those goals. This simple formula can be applied to any project in any industry.


Project success cannot be defined by budget, timeline and features. It can only be achieved by defining values and accomplishing goals based on those values. The precursor to defining values and setting goals is client awareness. Learning about your stakeholders, their business and their industry accelerates your path to defining values and setting value-based goals.

I’ve often heard it said that there are no shortcuts to success. I think this is true — you can’t skip steps, but you CAN make those steps as easy as possible. One of the ways to do this is through trust. Business projects are executed through a series of relationships; trust is the most important aspect of any relationship, and a business to business relationship is no different. Check out Building Trust Through Business Analysis to see how you can accelerate your path to success.

Want to learn more about what it's like to be a Nerdery Business Analyst? Contact us or apply here.

Published on 03/15/2017