Beyond Budget, Schedule, and Scope


New Definitions of Project Success



By Gregory Heinz
Hill International
Seattle, WA, USA


Joseph Pooler
Hill International
Philadelphia, PA, USA

Construction project success can mean many things. Traditionally, project managers (PMs) model and measure project success with “the iron triangle.” According to this model, a project consists of a triangle of constraints: schedule, budget, and scope—change one element in this triangle, and the other factors are impacted. Need to shorten the schedule? Your budget will have to rise. Want to cut costs? The scope may have to be reduced. Because these three constraints are present, interlocking factors on every project, the iron triangle is extremely useful for PMs and owners trying to define project success.

For most clients, meeting a project’s budget, schedule, and scope goals is important to project success. Sometimes, however, an owner’s priority for a project is to optimize one part of the iron triangle. For example, municipalities building K-12 school facilities may have strict schedule requirements to ensure students have desks to sit in come the school year. While adding costs to a resort or class-A high rise building may be secondary concern to scope. Other clients have strict budget requirements. Here, meeting these singular priorities will determine whether a given project is successful.

While scope, budget, and cost are important factors for an owner determining project success, they are not the only factors. With growing awareness of climate change have come demands for more sustainable projects. As social justice movements shake the status quo, owners may ask, “How does my project impact marginalized communities?” For example, most PMs are familiar with Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) requirements, common on government work. MBE requirements are not obstacles to overcome or administrative boxes to be checked. They reflect a client priority to expand economic opportunities for groups of historically disenfranchised people. Other definitions of project success might include community satisfaction, safety performance, teaming performance, or setting an industry benchmark. Simply put, definitions of a project’s success will include whatever priorities an owner wants to see realized through their investment. Stated another way, project success is whatever an owner wants it to be.

The Project Management Role

No matter what success looks like for a client, PMs have an important role to play. PMs can help an owner sharpen their definition of project success, balance alternative and sometimes conflicting priorities, establish KPIs, and drive project success according to an owner’s priorities. For PMs, managing the scope, budget, and cost of an owner’s project will always be important. That responsibility is part of the job description. However, it is equally important for project managers to develop an understanding of all of the goals an owner has and manage those goals in relation to one another—the iron triangle may very well become a rectangle or pentagon.

Ideally, this takes place prior to design, so the owner, PM, and designer can collaborate on a design specific to the owner’s vision. Even so, a PM professional can help an owner refine their goals and the project vehicle for achieving those goals at any point. As project experts, they can help owners organize their priorities and better define them in project terms. PMs can give owners realistic expectations about how a project can achieve their goals. They can keep owners informed about progress as a project moves forward and initiate proactive measures to address risks. The best PMs are also flexible, able to react to changing targets as a project’s purpose changes over the course of its life cycle.


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How to cite this paper: Hines, G. and Pooler, J.  (2022). Beyond Budget, Schedule, and Scope: New Definitions of Project Success; PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/pmwj124-Dec2022-Heinz-Pooler-beyond-budget-schedule-scope-for-project-success.pdf

About the Authors

Gregory Heinz

Seattle, Washington


Gregory Heinz is Senior Vice President, Western Region Manager at PM/CM firm Hill International, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in delivering infrastructure projects to clients in the public and private sectors. His involvement in these projects has ranged across the delivery spectrum, from finance, planning, and design, through construction and into operational assessments. Greg’s project experience includes manufacturing, heavy highways, rail transit, airports, federal buildings, schools, higher education facilities, and water and wastewater projects. Greg has served as engineer, construction manager, financial and economic analyst, public policy advisor, project manager, and project executive. Contact Greg at GregoryHeinz@hillintl.com.


Joseph Pooler

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Content Developer Joseph Pooler has worked with Hill International since 2019, helping company experts capture ideas, best practices, and other innovations in articles and other media. He can be reached at JosephPooler@hillintl.com.