Purpose – Failure is encountered regularly within project-based industries and there has been research for decades into this phenomenon. Much of it has considered the failure of projects in terms of the classic project progress issues such as time, cost and quality. Using cases from two major industries the authors aim to develop a different understanding of project measurement criteria. This work is part of a larger completed investigation into information systems and information technology (IS/IT) project management models, developed for industry comparisons. Design/methodology/approach – During the study, the concept of project failure and success is investigated. The authors carry out a UK-based, grounded study of two project-based industries of differing maturity levels (construction and IS/IT) to investigate measures of project failure or success across the two industries. Findings – The paper presents a reassessment of project measurement criteria. This is based on the separation of measures for project performance and project progress. Research limitations/implications – The adopted strategy of naturalistic inquiry has always been susceptible to the criticism that it relies too much on subjective interpretation of data. In addition, no clear relationship was established between the factors discussed and the criteria for measuring project success. Originality/value – The paper discusses current differences in perception of what actually constitutes a failed or successful project. The paper highlights that often two different (but closely related) concepts, are being discussed by project stakeholders.