Defining Success for an Initiative


Defining success is the first (and one of the most essential) steps in the ‘pre-planning stage’ of any initiative, and should be completed with representatives from multiple stakeholder groups from across your organization. 

Defining success is a prioritization activity which begins by identifying all relevant success statements, and narrows them down to the most important through a series of evaluation activities. 

This process consists of 5 steps:

  1. Identify what success looks like for all stakeholders
  2. Categorize each success statement based on case-specific categories
  3. Vote on the most important success statements
  4. Rate each success statement based on its overall importance to the initiative
  5. Develop actions to ensure each prioritized success statement is achieved


Defining success prior to beginning an initiative is critical in ensuring that every person on a team is working toward a common goal, and the end results are measurable. “By knowing what we are aiming for we are more likely to achieve it because we can adjust our course as we go to help us stay on track and maximise the chances of a successful project" (Project Management Works, 2015).

All too often, initiatives begin without any defined success criteria, or worse, they are started with the wrong set of criteria (Pozin, 2012). Success exists at many levels and looks different to everyone, and any single outcome (positive or negative) may not be globally determinative (Right Track Associates, 2016). “Without a common definition of ‘success’, there is no clear basis for differentiating a success from a failure” (Goatham, 2017). 

“If stakeholders have different definitions of success we can end up with different people pulling the project in different directions” (Goatham, 2017), therefore a wide range of stakeholders must be included in this process to ensure shared expectations and acceptance of the key operating premise (Right Track Associates, 2016). 



1) NOODLE: What does Success look like for this initiative? 

2) TAG with the following tags (edit to fit your context):


3) VOTE for the success statements you feel best represent success for this initiative. 

4) RATE how important each success statement is to the initiative’s overall success, using the following criteria:


5) ACTION: What specific actions should we take to ensure each success statement is met? 


  • Holistic vision of success for your initiative by key stakeholders
  • Success statements categorized into meaningful areas
  • Prioritized list of the most important success statements which can be used as KPI’s
  • Action Plan which can be used to monitor progress throughout the initiative  


This exercise will enable:

Quality- Bring multiple perspectives to the pre-planning process to ensure you are focused on the right elements and have not missed any key concepts. Stakeholders have an inclusive understanding of what success looks like.

Efficiency- Team members are not side-tracked or focused on the wrong issues by having a prioritized list of success metrics that are mutually agreed upon.

Engagement- Gain alignment and buy-in among stakeholders and create a cohesive group.  Increase innovation and creative thinking through diversity.

Agility- Stay on track throughout the initiative with an inclusive view to what success looks like.


Goatham, R. (2017). What is Project Success? International Project Leadership Academy.

Pozin, I. (2012). 6 ways to measure the success of any project. Inc.

Right Track Associates. (2016). Project Success Criteria: Realistic Expectations for Optimal Results. I.T Toolkit.

Project Management Works. (2015). Defining Project Success Criteria. Project Management Works.