Project Success Criteria and Kill Point

While every project manager hopes to initiate a project and execute it successfully to closure and reap the desired benefits and goal, the sad but honest truth is that not every project ends up being successful, or even getting to the project closing phase.

Projects are essentially initiated, planned, and executed primarily to create business and customer value, and derive other benefits. Sometimes this expected value is not realized for reasons that are numerous and varied. And that brings us to what is known as the kill point in project management.

In this article, we delve into the project success criteria, how to know if your project is succeeding or not, the project phase gates, the kill point in project management, and when to kill a project.

Phase Gate in Project Management

Phase gates are used as a project management technique to guide a project from its initiation to closing. It is very useful in monitoring and measuring the progress of the project, and ultimately to make important decisions about the project.

For projects using the traditional project management methodology or waterfall approach, projects especially large ones are usually broken down into stages or phases along the project life cycle, and the project then follows a linear scale from one stage or phase to another.

The phase gate technique in project management works by setting up gates at the end of each phase. These phase gates are very useful to the project stakeholders for the purpose of reviewing the progress up to that point.

The stakeholders use the phase gates for checking whether the phase and project success criteria are being met, make decisions about the project viability, and then decide whether to move on to the next phase of the project or not.

In the phase gate review, the project phase outcome or deliverable is compared with the preset project success criteria to determine the project’s success and viability up to that point.

Depending on this phase gate review, the project manager and stakeholders may decide to advance to the next phase, perform modifications to get the phase and project back on track, or kill the project.

The decomposition of the project into phases helps the project to be managed more easily and review the project at the different phase ends rather than waiting until the end of the project for scope verification and validation.

Phase Gate in Project Management

Read Also: How to Avoid Gold Plating in Your Projects

Project Success Criteria

Different projects have different ways their success is assessed. There are different factors that determine the success of a project as everyone may have individual perceptions.

But what is most important is that from the onset of the project, certain criteria are agreed on by the stakeholders and the project manager to measure against the outcome of the project and this forms the basis of the judgment of the project’s success.

These agreed-upon criteria form the project success criteria. The project success criteria are measurable factors or elements that are used to determine if the project outcome is satisfactory or acceptable to the stakeholders, end-users, and customers.

The project success criteria need to be clearly defined from the onset of the project and communicated concisely in order to avoid ambiguity and ensure everyone relevant to the project is on the same page when it comes to the definition of the success of the project.

There are three major factors used to define the success of the project. These are the iron triangle consisting of the project scope, schedule, and cost; the project benefits realized; and stakeholder satisfaction.

To achieve a successful project, each of these factors has to be agreed upon regarding the project requirements, goals, and objectives, while balancing the iron triangle.

These criteria can be checked at each phase gate whether the project is progressing as anticipated rather than waiting till the end of the project. This way, it becomes easier to quickly make important decisions about the project.

If from the review at the phase gate, it is evident that the project can not be delivered within the schedule, budget, according to the scope or requirements, or the project is not on course to reap the desired project benefits and deliver satisfaction to the stakeholders, then clearly the project is not succeeding.

Project Success Criteria

What is Kill Point in Project Management?

Now that you have an understanding of the project success criteria and the phase gate reviews, it is important to know what the kill point in project management is all about.

The kill point in project management is basically the point in the project life cycle at which a decision is taken by the project manager and stakeholders on whether to continue with the project or terminate it after a review of the project up to that point.

For most projects, this point of making a decision to continue, modify or kill the project is typically done at the end of the project phases, that is the phase gates. In essence, each phase gate is a potential kill point for a project.

If the stakeholders decide after the review that the project can not meet the required goal or is not worth completing, then a recommendation for termination of the project is made.

What is Kill Point in Project Management

When to Kill a Project

Killing or terminating a project is hardly what any project manager or stakeholder necessarily wants. After all, time, money, effort, manpower, and emotions have been invested into the project, and having to terminate a project can be draining.

However, the aim of a project is to create desired value and meet defined goals and objectives. And when it gets to a point where a review shows that it is no longer feasible achieving this, then the right thing to do is to cut losses immediately.

There are times when based on the project or phase review, it is best to terminate the project and cut the losses. Lots of things happen during the course of a project and some may even be out of your control as a project manager that make it unnecessary to continue with the project.

One major time when it is best to kill a project is when changes beyond control occur that make the project no longer feasible. These changes include instances of natural disasters. These could impact the project and render it unfeasible.

Another time when a project may be terminated is in cases of a financial crisis. The organization or client may hit this crisis and find it impossible to fund the project as initially planned.

Also, new regulations may come up in the middle of a project that bring about compliance issues. Rather than trying to find loopholes around the regulations incurring the risk of exposure, it is best to kill the project.

In a nutshell, there are lots of reasons that could make an ongoing project no longer viable or feasible, but it is essential to know that if from reviews and estimations the project is incapable of meeting the business need, then it is time to kill the project.

When to Kill a Project

Sunk Cost in Project Management

For an ongoing project that you intend to kill or terminate, it is very likely that a lot of money, time, effort, resources, and emotions have already been invested into it. To be honest, killing a project feels like a waste of all these investments.

Sunk costs are investments into the project that can not be recovered. These investments have already been poured into the project in the hopes of reaping the benefits, but by killing the project, it is all gone.

It is indeed a psychological blow. But the wise thing remains cutting losses since it is obvious that the benefits will not be realized from that project.

It is common to see stakeholders and project managers falling into the sunk cost fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy is whereby in a bid to recover the investments that have gone into the project, more money and resources are sunk into the project in the hopes of recouping the initial investments. That is a common trap that is to be avoided.

Another common fallacy is the commitment fallacy. Haven committed so much to the project, it becomes difficult to let go and admit defeat. As a project manager, you need to know when a project is still relevant to the business need and when to let go.

Read Also: Types of Risks in Project Management

Sunk Cost in Project Management

How to Kill a Project

When you have grasped the grim realities of the failure of the project and the inevitable need to terminate it, you may wonder how to go about it especially if you do not have experience in this.

While killing a project is never a fun process, it however needs to be done gracefully while avoiding damage to your professional reputation. The following strategies will help in making the project termination as seamless as possible.

1. Avoid the Blame Game

When terminating a project, it is easy to fall into the lure of pointing fingers at who may or may not be to blame. The fact is that every project is an opportunity to learn new lessons, even for those that get terminated.

It is best you take these lessons and add them to the project repository, and stick to the reasons for the project termination when preparing an end-of-project report rather than focusing on mistakes from vendors, stakeholders, team members, or anyone else.

2. Suggest Alternatives

Killing a project is negative news no matter how you look at it. One way to soften the blow is by suggesting alternatives that can help deliver the same business value as the initial project.

The lessons learned in the project can be very helpful in the suggested alternatives by avoiding similar mistakes that led to the project’s termination.

3. Evaluate the Impact

When a client or organization sponsors a project, it is to achieve a particular goal that is expected at the close of the project. So you need to understand that when the project is terminated, there is an impact on operations which is almost always negative.

The best practice is to evaluate and understand the impacts, and possible contingency plans to mitigate the impact, and properly communicate these to the key stakeholders.

How to Kill a Project


As earlier iterated, killing a project is what no project manager envisages when starting a project but in project management, things happen that may be out of your control.

What is important is to follow best project management practices, review the project progress at phase gates, know when you have to kill a project, and how to go about it.

It does not get easier, but killing a project at the right time and in the right way helps in preventing further losses from the project.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified Project Management professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced Project Managers and Business Analysts the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

Articles: 334

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *