Critical success factors in project management. To fail or not to fail, that is the question!

Abstract

Why do some project fail and some succeed? What went wrong? What are the key factors for the result of a project? These questions are asked by professionals dealing with projects thousands of times per year globally. To answer some of these questions research was carried out with a group of experts on factors influencing the project management process and identification of critical success factors.

Based on the research, out of the sixty one factors influencing project management process, fifty four were identified as significantly influencing the project management process. These factors were grouped, based on assumptions in the paper's classifications as having: substantial, large, medium, small and negligible influences on the success of the project.

Based on the assumed factors classification the critical success factors were determined within a group of factors having substantial influence on the success of the project.

Introduction

Every Project Manager would like to run a project that finishes with success but only the minority do in reality. According to Standish Group (2003) the majority of projects (67 % in 2002) run out of budget or time significantly. Why does it happen? What are the reasons that a project could fail? Are there any factors that could influence the project management process and as result lead to the project success or failure? To determine these factors a group of Project Managers was asked to review their realised projects and point out the factors that had influence on the project success and failure.

Experts Research

A research poll was done throughout the Project Managers (as Experts) having at least five years of experience and having completed at least three projects. The poll was based on the questionnaire placed on the Web site and covered the following areas:

  • - project integration,
  • - project scope,
  • - project communication,
  • - staff fluctuation,
  • - project schedule,
  • - project budget,
  • - project resources,
  • - reporting and monitoring the project,
  • - resistance to the project,
  • - project context.

The survey method

82 experts were invited to participate in the research as experts. The questionnaire was divided into three parts. In the first part Project Managers were asked to rank the factors on the scale from “-3” to “+3” the influence of a given factor on the project success or failure (Exhibit 1), where “-3” means strong influence on the project failure and “+3” means strong influence on the project success. The factors presented to the project managers were grouped into 10 already mentioned areas and the total number of factors were 61.

The second part was to collect the information about the knowledge and experience of the Project Managers have and how they acquire it.

The third part was to collect the information about the project realised by Project Managers in terms of type, budget and time.

The total number of questions was 205.

To fulfil the purpose of this paper the results of the first part of research are presented and discussed in this paper.

Assumed scale of marks for the factors influence to the project success or failure

Exhibit 1. Assumed scale of marks for the factors influence to the project success or failure.

Research Description

All the experts taking part in the research know at least one project management methodology. The biggest number (83%) knew PMBOK as described by Project Management Institute (PMI®). The next best known was PRINCE 2 (41%). After this 32% were methods and technique worked out by the companies themselves.

The PM experts found out about formal methodology during their work (61%). They acquired the knowledge from the professional press and books (43%), during the training and courses (10%) and dedicated studies (6%).

All the experts with different areas of knowledge of methodology in their work are conceptualised in Exhibit 2.

Structure of the application of the project management methodology in experts work

Exhibit 2 – Structure of the application of the project management methodology in experts work

The experience of the experts on the project management field was as follows: working with projects on average for 9 years (median: 7 years); planned on average 21 projects (median: 10), completed on average 20 projects (median:14), with average budget of 2 million $ (median: 150 thousand $) and average project team of 10 people (median: 8).

The majority (80%) of the researched experts managed:

  • Project Scope.
  • Project Resources.
  • Project Budget.
  • Project Communication.
  • Project Time.

Only 50 % of experts managed in practice:

  • Project Integration.
  • Project Risk.
  • Project Quality.
  • Project Procurement.

Results presentation

Absolute mean values from the range 2 to 3 were obtained by the following factors: (Exhibit 3):

  • Formal establishing of the Project Manager A1
  • The project goal clear and measurable set B1
  • Project Manger's competencies A13
  • Formal establishing of the Project Team A2
  • High authority of the Project Manager A5
  • Top Management support for the project A14
  • Project Managers experience A16
  • Effective communication procedures C1
  • Project team competencies A11
  • Adequate style of management of the Project Manager A6
  • Monitoring and change control within the project H5
  • Motivation of the Project Team A19
  • Motivation of the Project Manager A18
  • Monitoring and risk management for the project H6
  • Periodical reports for the Project Manager H3
  • Different types of interested people involved in the project I3
  • Ad-hoc meetings of the project team C4
  • Bottlenecks in the information flow C6
  • The same project manager in the project planning and execution phases A8
  • Using tools and techniques H7
Factors absolute mean values from the range [2;3]

Exhibit 3. Factors absolute mean values from the range [2;3].

For result categorisation presentation and understanding of the assumed scale of results from 0 – 3, it was divided into ranges [0,0 - 1,0]; (1,0 – 1,5]; (1,5 – 2,0]; (2,0 – 2,5], (2,5 – 3,0]. For better results presentation it was assumed that the percentage scale would be introduced as follows: 0 means 0% and 3 means 100%, which makes the following ranges: [0% – 33%], [34% – 50%]; [51% – 66%]; [67% – 83%], [84% – 100%]. Based on assumptions in the study classifications of ranges was projected as having: substantial, large, medium, small and negligible influences on success of the project (Exhibit 4) and the groups of factors determined (Exhibit 5).

Classification of the factors influencing project success

Exhibit 4. Classification of the factors influencing project success

Groups of factors having substantial, large, middle, small and negligible influences on success of the project

Exhibit 5. Groups of factors having substantial, large, middle, small and negligible influences on success of the project

Based on the assumed factors classification the Critical Success Factors (CSF) were determined within a group of factors having substantial influence on project success (Exhibit 6).

Critical Success Factors (CSF) in the assumed classification of the factors influencing project process

Exhibit 6. Critical Success Factors (CSF) in the assumed classification of the factors influencing project process

Summary

Among the whole factors classification the most important are factors having substantial influence on project success which are:

  • a) Formal establishing the Project Manager, with 93% influence on the project success;
  • b) Project Manager competencies, with 88% influence on the project success;
  • c) High authority of the Project Manager, with 85% influence on the project success;
  • d) The project gaol set in a clear and measurable way, with 90% influence on the project success;
  • e) Formally establishing a Project Team, with 86% influence on the project success;
  • g) Top Management support for the project, with 84% influence on the project success.

As the first three factors (a, b, c) are thematically bounded, the Critical Success Factors are assumed as:

  • Project Manager formally established who is competent and has a high level of authority.
  • The project goal clearly set.
  • Establishing an experienced and competent project team.
  • Top management support for the project.

References

Standish Group (2003), CHAOS Chronicles, West Yarmouth.

Spalek S. (2004), Critical Success Factors in Project Management, Gliwice: Silesian Technical University Press,.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© Seweryn Spalek
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Edinburgh, Scotland

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