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Defining Acceptance Criteria for Successful Projects

Acceptace criteria in project management is about ‘product acceptance criteria’. This means that project acceptance criteria (also known as ‘project management acceptance criteria’ or ‘project deliverables acceptance criteria’) have two critical characteristics for our project deliverables (or products):

1) They need to accomplish with Specifications, according to Scope, Cost and Time restrictions (Project Success Criteria).
2) The deliverables must be accepted by others (Project Success Factors).

Project success criteria (PSC)

These are defined as the qualitative or quantitative criteria by which the success of a project is judged. For example, Success Criteria may be:

  • Delivered within Time and Budget tolerances
  • Delivered to Specifications
  • Customer Satisfaction rating achieved
  • Health and Safety adherence
  • Realisation of Business Benefits 
  • Increased market share
  • Improved productivity

From the point of view of the Project Managers, success may be defined as delivering on Time, Cost and Scope Specifications. However other stakeholders may be more concerned with business benefits. These will probably not be known at time of project completion. It is perfectly possible for a project to be deemed a delivery success but fail to produce its business benefits. On the other hand, many projects that have been delivered late and over budget have nevertheless delivered considerable business benefits.

Project success factors (PSF)

Project Success Factors (based on the concept of Critical Success Factors, CSF) are those elements within the structure and context of the project that are conductive to success. The elements can be compared to Hygiene Factors in that their presence will not guarantee success but their absence will markedly increase the probability of failure. Some examples of this are:

  • Clear project mission
  • Top Management support
  • Client consultation
  • Committed project personnel
  • Monitoring and feedback mechanisms
  • Clear communications
  • Adequate resources

Key performance indicators (KPI)

Finally, we need Key Performance Indicators (KPI) in order to continuously meassure over the life of the project and anticipate any project deviations from Specification, Time or Cost requirements. They directly measure the project performance against Project Success Criteria. Although success criteria can be qualitative or quantitative, ideally they should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic and Timely).

Acceptance criteria for consulting services

I received recently an email from a ProjectManagers.Org member asking me the following question:

“What are the acceptance criteria for a consulting service?. Results from this consulting service are only documents consisting of recommendations, there is no product.”

Let me share the answer to all of our Project Managers, so that this could also help also some of them.

The first thing about services (that is, “intangible products”) is that it is very important try to “tangilibilize the service”. That is, it is necessary to make physical the project deliverables (from a work that is mainly intangible) in order to transmit a real practical value from the customer’s investment. We need to transform money into tangible value. This can be done through many different ways.

The most common way for reaching Acceptance Criteria is by adding into the consulting services contract a “verification checklist” of deliverables that the consulting project will deliver at the end. For sure we have seen project acceptance criteria examples before, such as the following project acceptance criteria example: 

  • 4 processes documented, implemented and validated by those responsible.
  • 10 Quick-Wins implemented with proven results.
  • 2 Practical Training seasons performed (of a duration about 4 hours each) to all the stakeholders involved in the new processes.
  • 4 hard copies of a book (including a beautiful cover) wth all the processes and procedures implemented
  • 4 corporate CDs/pendrives with all the documentation generated
  • A Mind-Map as the project documentation catalog, for fast document finding
  • A Walkthrough Report for each of the processes implemented 
  • A final Performance Report of all the processes implemented
  • A Sumary Powerpoint presentation of the entire project
  • A final Presentation season for the Senior Management and Sponsor of the project which focuses on the “impact of the project on the everyday work operation”.

In this basic example of acceptance criteria for projects in consulting services, the customer will check at the end of the project if all agreed deliverable have been provided by the project, or there is any pending to receive and therefore the project it is not finished.

In any case, in serious customer organizations every new document has an acceptance workflow before it goes into effect. Driving your project documentation over this customer acceptance circuit usually is enough to know if you have reached acceptance or not. In theses cases, also it is very important in your project schedulling to include all the TIME estimates about all the steps the project document deliverables will need to go through before they get accepted. It is also important to take into account that it is probable that some of the documents will require some reworks and approvals before reaching the final acceptance.

Finally, I share with you two quotes:

Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time. -Arnold Glasow. 

If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view-as well as your own.
-Henry Ford. 

What is your approach to get acceptance of your projects?

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