Measuring Project Success Beyond The Iron Triangle

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The practice of assessing projects performance and outcome has traditionally relied on defining success criteria in terms of the Iron Triangle (also known as the Triple Constraints). Indeed, The International Project Management Association (IPMA) defines a project’s success as “the ability to deliver the project’s product in scope, time, cost and quality.”. (IPMA competence baseline, 2006). Accordingly, the conventional job of project managers has been to ensure a balance between the competing visible elements of the iron triangle. This article argues that this concern should include further considerations when assessing the success of projects, notably on large organizational level as well as the public sector. where complex megaprojects needs to be subjected to a wider range of criteria for planning and evaluation in order to optimize the value delivered by these projects. Although the difficulties involved in assessing project success on this level have traditionally led project mangers to use simple models such as the iron triangle to measure success, additional criteria has been suggested to have a greater significance as measurement tools. Theses criteria include stake holders satisfaction, technical performance and innovation, and organizational benefits and growth. The articles focuses mainly on the impact on customers and benefits to the performing organization as external measurement for assessing project success.


The Iron triangle model has been in use for over sex decades as a tool for project managers to plan projects as well as to evaluate their performance. It consists typically of three dynamically interrelated components; cost, time and scope. A project has subsequently been considered successful upon finalization if it is delivered in time, on budget and according to specifications. However, since projects are about creating value through change, interactions between projects and various components of their surrounding environment is inevitable, an environment that has through the past decades undergone drastic developments to become profoundly complex as well as highly uncertain. As a result, the content of a project as well as the nature of its intended purpose has become of a much higher significance as modern projects serve mainly as an integral part of project programs and project portfolios. Elements of the Iron Triangle provide metrics for evaluating and controlling project performance from a management point of view, while However, they fall short when it comes to shaping the purpose or the content of the project, which raises questions around the validity of this model as a thorough tool to evaluate project success. Case in point, the Big Dig project in Boston, Massachusetts. The project ran way over budget to be considered as the costliest urban road project in the history of US public works, yet the project is considered an overall success.

Measuring Project Success

The multi-attribute nature of projects compels managers to use several measures of success. These measures could be internal such as meeting budget, time schedule and technical performance or such as customer satisfaction and needs. However, The relative importance of theses measures changes throughout the life cycle of a project. Early at the beginning of the project internal factors are of higher importance to determine wither it makes sense or not to initiate the project while the role of external measures could make more sense in a program or portfolio management sense to determine wither the right project is being carried out. However, as the project progresses towards advanced stages and specifically after it ends, overruns in budget and time cease to be as important, while external measures of customer satisfaction, and its relation to the project organization, continue to be important. In conclusion, evaluating the success of a project should most importantly include two external measures which reflects its external effectiveness: Impact on proposed customers and impact on the developing organization with customers’ benefit being the most important of all.

Measuring Impact on the customers

The iron triangle model relies on internal metrics to assess the success of a project. However, it has been established that further measures such as impact on the customers and benefits to the organization, which reflects external effectiveness should also be taken into consideration when defining project success. The significance of project impact on customers has been on the rise worldwide. Case in point, The Affordable Care Act established in the United States which is anticipated to have a huge impact on projects performed by the pharma industry. The act indicates that all hospitals as well as health care professionals serving Medicare patients with the most common conditions will be paid for the quality of the care, rather than the quantity of services, they supply. This shift from unit towards value-based purchasing means that it is what how customers value matters the most and hence should be considered above all when measuring the success of pharma projects.

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