This paper by R. Max Wideman was first published as part of Chapter 17 in A Field Guide to Project Management, 2nd Edition, edited by David I. Cleland and published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey, 2004.
The original paper has received minor updates and is published here August 2015.

Introduction | Who Are the Stakeholders? | Internal Projects
Hidden Stakeholders | Keeping Internal Stakeholders on Your Side
External Projects | How to Identify Public Stakeholders


The classic measure of project management success is "On time, and on budget and meeting specifications". Important though these criteria are, the real measure of project success is the level of "customer satisfaction" in the final product. How this is achieved depends very much on the type of product and this has a direct bearing on the best way to manage that particular project. So, there are several significantly different types of projects and the following are some examples:[1]

  • A project that results in a tangible product and is the result of craftwork, such as traditional building construction, i.e. traditional project management.
  • A project to develop a new physical artifact resulting from intensive intellectual work, such as a new invention.
  • A project in which the value of the product is really intangible but nonetheless is the result primarily of craftwork such as updating and editing a procedures manual.
  • A project in which the value of the product is in its intangible and intellectual property, such as the development of new software.

Note that there are two dimensions at play here. Firstly, resulting products the value of which are in tangible assets, versus physical entities but the value of which are in their intangible properties. Secondly, there are products the creation of which that require primarily manual effort, versus those that require primarily mental effort. Thus we have a fundamental four-cell matrix consisting of project outputs that are solid or soft involving brain or brawn.

Each of these four kinds of projects is very different and needs different project management approaches because of the people involved. So, it is a good idea to identify these respective project stakeholders, especially during early project planning and, based on the findings, develop a list of related Key Success Indicators (KSIs) that reflect their reasonable expectations.

KSIs are project management indicators that should be identified at the beginning of the project; listed in order of priority; reflect directly on the perception of the project's product; and provide the basis for trade-off decisions during the execution phases of the project. Needless to say, KSIs should be measurable in some way, on some scale and after a relevant period of product time-in-use. Note, however, that KSIs should not be confused with so-called Critical Success Factors (CSFs).

CSFs are generally those factors in the project and organizational environment that contribute towards project success, or otherwise militate against it. They are typically an integral part of the project's environment and generally beyond the control of the project team. Certainly, they have a significant impact on the way some of the stakeholders think, and positive examples include: active management or public support; favorable labor or economic conditions; and sufficient time and/or budget to complete the work. In contrast, KSIs are essentially pro-active and within the planning and control of the project team. They measure the way people think about the results of the project.

For example, a major objective on a particular public engineering project could be a political one to create local employment. However, the real value of the project is in the facility's cost-effectiveness over many years in service. For this project, the use of labor would be preferable to the use of plant, especially where the total real costs are about the same. Given established and prioritized KSIs, it should be possible to observe if the success focus changes and shift direction accordingly. For instance, market conditions or ownership may change during the project leading to a new vision. Attention to relevant KSIs avoids a short-term project success becoming a white elephant in the long term.


1. Shenhar, A. J. & Wideman, R. M. Towards a fundamental differentiation between projects. Research paper under development, University of Minnesota, 1996
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