Make it measurable: set clear goals & success criteria for your projects

Over the past few weeks I’ve been wrapping up and kicking off a bunch of projects. It is during both of these phases that I am reminded how incredibly valuable it is for me, as a UX practitioner, to proactively encourage my clients to clearly define the goal for their project and to create success criteria – ways that we can tell whether or not the project has been successful.

Be specific

In my experience it is very often left up to me to make sure that the project goals are as clear as they need to be. Many clients come into projects wanting ‘to improve the usability of our website/application/etc’, in my experience that is most often too vague a project goal as to be useful.

The kind of project goals that are really useful go more like this:

We’re getting lots of traffic to the site but not many are joining/buying/contributing/coming back. We want to fix this.

We’re getting lots of calls from people who have visited our website but still don’t know what we do. We want to fix this.

People are coming to our site and doing X but we really want them to start doing Y, we want to find out why this is happening and what we need to do to address it.

As soon as you start defining more specific project goals you can immediately see the way that success criteria start to become immediately apparent.

Measuring success criteria

Some success criteria are immediately apparent and easy to measure, for example return visitors, increased membership, activity or sales. Ideally you want to put some numbers around what you’d consider would define this project as ‘successful’, but even just identifying the metrics that you will use to judge the success of the project is a good start.

Some success criteria are less easy to ‘measure’ but don’t let that discourage you. Often for these kinds of criteria I’ll use a round of research to determine whether or not we’ve been successful – those things that are difficult to quantify are often quite easy to examine using qualitative research. I find myself more and more using a last round of research to ‘check off’ the less quantifiable success criteria for projects.

What’s in it for me?

Failure is a built-in risk of success criteria, but don’t let that put you off. Failing knowledgeably is actually an incredibly useful learning experience for practitioner and client alike (and yes, I speak from experience). I would argue that by defining clear goals and success criteria you are going to do nothing but increase your chances of success in a project.

Clearly defined project goals allow you to make all kinds of good decisions on a project and it can impact everything from design decisions through to who you recruit to participate in design. Just the other day a project I’m working on managed to avoid wasting a number of research sessions on ‘people we felt we had to include’ because we were able to really clearly define why, for the purposes of achieving the goals for this project, they were not our target audience. Without the clear goal we would never have been able to come to this decision.

Clearly defined and measurable success criteria similarly guide you through decision making throughout the project, but they also continue to be useful well after a project has wrapped up. Of course, we use them to judge the success of the project, but we can also use them to communicate this success to others in the organisation and beyond. Clearly defined and measured success criteria give us something tangible to talk about and take much of the ‘touchy feely’ fuzziness out of User Experience and that makes it much easier for more people to understand and appreciate the value of the work we have done.

Would love to hear your thoughts & experiences.

10 thoughts on “Make it measurable: set clear goals & success criteria for your projects

    1. @leisa Right on. What’s equally important is organising the project based on these goals, it provides focus and yes disambiguity.

  1. This is good stuff Leisa. The thing I’d add here from my own experience is that it’s often quite difficult for clients to get to what the goals and criteria might look like, so I’ve tended to try and provide examples of what good (and bad) examples would look like.

    The ‘bad’ ones I sometimes use to head off likely issues – like clients judging ‘fewer people phoning us up’, ‘more hits’ etc. as a sensible measure of success.

    I also encourage clients to try to hold on to the project goals, and make them the thing they keep coming back to in meetings, reviews etc. to judge whether we’re on track.

    When you get a client referencing the project goals unprompted is when you know they’ve got it.

  2. Hey Brilliant blog, isn’t it amazing that simple things like clear, specific, measurable, attached to a timeline, success criteria and underlying business objective are something so common sense that we forget? I must be honest sometimes my clients approach us or I inherit projects from other development or marketing organizations and about halfway through with no clear goals set. thanks for this

  3. Since we’re first and foremost a design agency, one of the common goals we are given by clients is something like “improve the look and feel and design of the site” or “make us look more professional and credible.” I’ve struggled with how you measure that or whether there are better ways to define that goal. Anyone else ran into that?

  4. hence, this world, the addiction to the quantifiable one … in which quality, value, the qualitative are almost totally ignored …

    not sustainable at all

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