MIS Quarterly Executive


The fact that the majority of IT projects fail on at least one measure of success, and that billions of dollars in project waste is reported each year, suggests that there is a critical need for improving the way we manage these projects. The sobering truth is that the secret to more successful project management has been right in front of us the whole time-learning from the past. A retrospective (a.k.a. a postmortem) is a formal method for evaluating project performance, extracting lessons learned, and making recommendations for the future. A comprehensive retrospective considers three process-based measures of project success: whether it came in on schedule (time), whether it came in on budget (cost), and whether the requirements were met (product). It also considers three outcome-based measures of success: whether the resulting product or service was actually used (use), whether the project helped prepare the organization for the future (learning), and whether the project improved efficiency or effectiveness of the client organization (value). This article presents several retrospectives of IT projects to illustrate the importance of evaluating project success from these multiple dimensions, as well as from different stakeholder perspectives. Doing so can lead to some valuable lessons in the form of "failed successes" (process success + outcome failure), and "successful failures" (process failure + outcome success).