Jun 04 2015

How do you define the ultimate success of your project?

These days, more and more people are taking an iterative approach to development. And that’s a very good thing. We have an idea, we validate it with an MVP, and we keep building from there.

But as a byproduct of the “baby steps” approach, there’s one thing that too many of us are ignoring: success.

How will you define the ultimate success of your project?

Rand Fishkin of Moz calls this “setting Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG’s),” and he uses the example of the NASA moon landing mission to illustrate it:

“The moon mission had this super clear big hairy audacious goal: put a man on the surface of the moon, and return him safely to the earth.

Immensely measurable. The guy steps on the moon and comes back okay.

Then we did our job, right?”

Contrary to what many companies try to do in their project planning, “product gets built” is not success.

Revenue goals. Customer success. Downloads. Engagement. Traffic. These are the things success is measured by. These are the things that are immensely measurable, undeniably precise and excellent indicators of whether you did what you set out to do.

But whatever you choose to define success by, you should have a clear picture that you can use to evaluate whether you’re doing the right things at every step in your project.

Here’s why:

Defining success helps you reverse engineer your goals

If you set out to “build a product”, your goal is so vague that you can take hundreds or thousands of paths to get there.

With a clearly defined success point, you’re optimizing for a single metric, making it easier to work backwards and say “how can we increase traffic to our website?” or “how can we double our revenue?”

Answering these questions will help you keep your project focused on creating value for your business, rather than building aimlessly.

Defining success gives you a clear framework for decision-making

In the early days of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a single goal on a whiteboard: More users.

When an employee would suggest a new feature or strategy, Zuckerberg would challenge it: how does this help us get more users?

If it doesn’t, it’s not even going to be considered.

Tunnel vision eliminates feature creep, and helps you build a product that wins.

Defining success gives you an easy way to evaluate the project after-the-fact

One of the most valuable points in any project’s lifecycle is an honest, thorough post-mortem.


Because it helps you look at the way you completed the project, and identify what went well (so you can repeat it) and what went poorly (so you can avoid it in the future).

It’s the only way to make the approach to every single project better than the one before it.

And having a clear goal that you can point to and ask “did we succeed?” informs the answer to any question about what your team did right or wrong.

This is especially important if you’re working with an agency. A good agency will push you to define success, and at the end, evaluating whether you succeeded or not -- while examining the decisions made along the way -- will help you gain a much deeper understanding of how to approach working with agencies in the future.

You don’t happen upon success by chance

It’s nice to think that if you build a particular product, your revenue will grow, or your traffic will increase.

But unless you approach the project with a focus on the success you actually want to achieve, it’s unlikely that you’ll see that goal accomplished.

Successful projects don’t succeed by accident.

Defining success is the first step to achieving it.

Nick Kishfy