No-one likes to fail. We always want to claim some level of success. “At least we got the system in,” we tell ourselves. Or, “We were on budget even if it did go over time.”

To guarantee ‘success’ some consultancies suggest that you should only define the measures of success on delivery – which is utter nonsense.

My problem is that thinking in terms of ‘degrees of success’ allows unnecessary compromises and waste. As long as some degree of ‘success’ is claimable, the project can be seen to be ‘successful’ regardless of the actual results delivered (and not delivered).

Of course ‘compromise’ is accepted as part of reality in the corporate world. We may aim for, say, a $10 million saving, but if we get, say, $8 million, that’s a degree of success.

A more demanding approach is to think in terms of ‘degrees of failure’. In the above example, delivering $8 million when you sought to deliver $10 million is a failure to some ($2 million) degree.

I used to be an international swimmer. When I got onto the starting blocks my goal was to win, to come first. Coming second, fifth or whatever was failure. I did not put in the hours and hours of training to come second or worse. I either succeeded (won) or failed. Coming in second was a lesser degree of failure than, say, coming in sixth, but it was still a degree of failure not a degree of success.

If we approach our projects determined to ‘win’ and ensure we do deliver, in our example, the full $10 million, this will change our mindset and determination to deliver the full value of the project. Delivering $8 million is now a degree of failure, not success.

Currently the prevailing mindset is to claim ‘degrees of success’ whatever the actual results— allowing compromise, loss, wastage, etc to be tolerated or even encouraged.

For example, the project industry’s reinterpretation of ‘critical success factors’ to mean ‘the most important measures of success’ rather than ‘those aspects that have to exist or go right for the project to succeed’ – which is a recipe for delivering degrees of failure.

Any shift in thinking will need to be wholly supported by the business as they wear the consequences of any degrees of failure.

So the core question is: “Is the business willing to change its mindset, lift up its standards and go for gold or will it just remain happy to finish?”