Critical success factors (CSFs) affecting project performance in Turkish IT sector

Introduction

Information technology (IT) projects often are more complex and less predictable than other types of projects such as construction and engineering (Ewusi-Mensah, 1997; Kapur, 1999; Rodriquez-Repiso, Setchi, & Salmeron, 2007). These projects often exceed their proposed budgets and/or schedules and do not always fulfill their objectives.

Over the last decades, a number of publications have addressed the issue of software projects being behind schedule, over budget, and not meeting stakeholder expectations (Ewusi-Mensah, 1997; Hartman & Ashrafi, 2002; Mahaney & Lederer, 2006). According to Project Management Institute's 2012 Pulse of the Profession Benefits Realization In Depth Report, only about half of projects meet their original budget and schedule as well as contribute to the organization's strategic objectives. These projects are generally considered as unsuccessful.

In Turkey, expectations of corporations from their information technology departments are increasing every day. IT departments and companies that give technology service to sectors like banking, telecommunications, retail, logistics, etc. are in a fierce competition. Companies try to present new products in the shortest available time with the best quality in order to compete in their markets. As a result, the importance given to management of product development projects is rapidly increasing. Most of the information technology companies or departments have project management office (PMOs) and the number of Project Management Institute certified professionals in Turkey are continuously increasing. On the other hand, although project management literature is quite limited, the global problems of project management mentioned previously have also been witnessed in Turkey.

This paper aims to identify the project management success factors and their influence on project performance in Turkish information technology sector. The secondary purpose of the paper is to determine the moderating effects of project team size, project duration, organization size, and projectized organization structure on project management success factors and project performance relationship in the Turkish information technology sector.

Problem Statement

Although studies about project management are popular, a consensus has not been reached on the definition of project success or how to measure it (Pinto & Slevin, 1986; Culler, 2009). Project success is dependent on one's perception and perspective. This leads Baker, Murphy, and Fisher (1974) to conclude that there is probably no such thing as “absolute success” in project management; there is only the “perceived success of a project.” They also point out that how we evaluate success probably changes over time. All of the stakeholders in any given project can hardly be said to hold the same point of view on this matter (Lim & Mohamed, 1999).

The literature does not contain consistent research results pertaining to relationships between critical success factors and information technology project performance (Culler, 2009; Agirre Perez, 2007; Hass, 2006; Nasr, 2004; Westlund, 2007; Wu, 2006).

On the other hand, it is quite important for project practitioners to understand the degree of relationships between critical success factors and information technology project performance in order to concentrate on the right factor at the right time to reach the targeted project success.

Purpose of the Study

These are the objectives of this research:

• To identify the project management success factors and examine the relationships between these factors and information technology project performance in the Turkish IT sector.

• To determine the moderating effect of project team size, project duration, organization size, and projectized organization structure on project management success factors and project performance relationship in the Turkish IT sector.

Importance of the study

The growing attention to project management relates to the increasing number of projects within organizations to achieve strategic objectives. Hyvari (2006) observed increases in research on project success factors. On the other hand, the effect on relationships between the critical success factors and information technology project performance had not been consistently established.

Because there is no empirical research pertaining to the effect of relationships between critical success factors and information technology project performance in Turkish literature, this study makes a significant contribution to Turkish business literature and fills this gap.

Research Questions to be addressed

The study attempts to concentrate on these research questions, which need further analysis:

1. Which critical success factors influence project success most in the Turkish information technology sector?

2. Is there a significant relationship between the critical success factors and information technology project performance in the Turkish information technology sector?

3. What is the moderating effect of project team size, project duration, organization size, and projectized organization structure on project management success factors and project performance relationship in the Turkish information technology sector?

Literature Review

Definition of Project Success Criteria

The Oxford Dictionary suggests that a criterion is “a principle or standard that a thing is judged by,” while a factor is “a circumstance, fact, or influence contributing to a result.” Project success criteria therefore refers to a group of principles or standards used to determine or judge project success, and critical success factors refer more specifically to conditions, events, and circumstances that contribute to project results. This paper will now look at the project success criteria.

Although studies of project success are popular, they have not led to a consensus on a definition or how to measure such success (Pinto & Slevin, 1987). This leads Baker et al. (1974) to conclude that there is probably no such thing as “absolute success” in project management: there is only the “perceived success of a project.” They also point out that how we evaluate success probably changes over time. All of the stakeholders in any given project can hardly be said to hold the same point of view on this matter (Lim & Mohamed, 1999).

Project success and project failure are not necessarily opposite or contradictory notions, nor are they a “black and white” issue, to borrow the expression used by Baccarni (1999). Several authors simply presume that everyone knows what is meant by “project success” and “project failure.”

Authors generally discuss project success as project management success more than the real project success (Ika, 2009). Within the conceptual framework of this review, a distinction is necessary between “project management success” and “project success.” Project success has long been considered the ability to fall within time, cost, and quality constraints. The “time/cost/quality triangle” or “iron triangle” or the “golden triangle” that some professionals call the “Holy Trinity” or the “triangle of virtue” sufficed as a definition of project success (Atkinson, 1999; Westerveld, 2003). However, projects have often been delivered within time, cost, and quality, only to be considered failures. At the same time, other projects that have exceeded time or cost constraints are generally considered successful (Pinto & Slevin, 1986). The “percussion effect” would appear to apply: projects that were perceived as failures at their launch would later become models of success, while others considered successes at their launch turned into catastrophes (Hazebroucq, 1993). A project team may therefore be wrongly congratulated or blamed, depending on when a project is considered a success or failure.

Many more lay out a bolder proposal: quality is an ambiguous, multidimensional, and subjective concept that lends itself to different interpretations by various project stakeholders (Wateridge, 1998). Baker et al. (1974) added the issue of client satisfaction. Project success therefore becomes a “virtuous square of criteria”: time, cost, quality, and client satisfaction.

For Munns and Bjeirmi (1996), the project management objectives differ from the project objectives, and we can no longer afford to confuse strict adherence to the “time/cost /quality triangle”—the most common objective of project management—with project success.

According to Ika (2009), understanding of project success changes through time. Exhibit 1 shows trends regarding project management success and project success. The framework involves three periods.

Exhibit 1 – Measuring success across time (Ika, 2009)

Measuring success across time (Ika, 2009)

Period 1 (1960s–1980s) illustrates the supreme reign of the “iron triangle” (project management success) as the criterion of success. During this period, the literature was theoretical and provided anecdotic lists of critical success factors.

Period 2 (1980s–2000s) was dominated by empirical work such as Pinto and Slevin's (1989) “10 Critical Success Factors framework.” Although the “iron triangle” is still very important, other success criteria are welcomed (Atkinson, 1999), and the emphasis shifts from project management success to project/product success (Baccarini, 1999).

Period 3, as we envisage it, will welcome other context-dependent and, most important, project/product, portfolio, and program success criteria and critical success factors (e.g., Cooke-Davies's “12 CSF framework,” 2002), as well as symbolic and rhetoric ones.

As Baccarini (1999) explained, the hard dimensions of a project (e.g., time, cost) are tangible, objective, and measurable, while the soft dimensions (e.g., stakeholders’ satisfaction) are subjective, subtle, and more difficult to measure.

Project management success may ultimately lead to project success, but the opposite is not true: it is reasonable to assume that failure in project management may lead to project failure, except under fortuitous circumstances, but that the project can also fail despite successful project management (Ika, 2009).

The last decades experienced a gradual understanding that project success requires broader definitions than project management success (Jugdev & Muller, 2005) despite the fact that this traditional triangle view of success is still prevailing. Most of the researchers, although they recognize that there are other criteria for project success, still attach more importance to the time/cost/quality triangle.

In fact, as Shenhar et al. (2005) stated: “Strategically managed projects are focused on achieving business results while operationally managed projects are focused on getting the job done”. With this emphasis on project, portfolio, and program success, it is reasonable to expect that knowledge production on project success relies more on senior managers, project sponsors or owners and anyone involved in project selection and design. What is needed is a quantum view of the world in which chaos, change, uncertainty, and relaxation of control are accepted as a means of gaining control (Ika, 2009).

Definition of Critical Project Success Factors

The literature review on project performance has revealed different conclusions to indicate researchers and public opinion disagree on leading project performance predictors.

Most early studies in this area focused on the reasons for project failure rather than project success. Rubin and Seeling (1967) investigated the relationship of the project manager's experience on the project's success or failure. The findings indicate that a project manager's previous experience had a minimal impact on the project's performance. Avots (1969) identified the reasons for project failure and concluded that the wrong choice of project manager, the unplanned project's termination, and unsupportive top management were the main reasons for failure. Hughes (1986) conducted a survey to identify the factors that affect project performance. He concluded that projects fail because of the improper focus of the management system, by rewarding the wrong actions and the limited communication of goals. However, to understand failure does not guarantee success in the future. Repeating the critical success factors in new projects has been suggested as the more effective approach to improve project performance (Hawk, 2006).

Dvir, Lipovetsky, Shenhar, and Tishler (1998) suggested that project success factors are not universal for all projects. Different types of projects are affected by different sets of success factors. Thus, a project-specific approach is appropriate for subsequent research into the practice and theory of project management (Hyvari, 2005). Belassi and Tukel (1996) grouped critical success factors into four areas: external environment; project manager and team members; organization; and the project. The identification of critical factors would lead to the better evaluation of projects and this cause-effect relationship would improve project performance (Karlsen et al. 2006).

It was Slevin and Pinto (1987) who proposed a scientific basis for success that comprises 10 key success factors (project implementation profile): project mission, top management support, project schedules/plan, client consultation, personnel, technical tasks, client acceptance, monitoring and feedback, troubleshooting, and communication. This research only identified the critical success factors, but did not measure the strength of their relationship with project performance.

Slevin and Pinto (1987) classified critical success factors as strategic or tactical. Strategic factors consist of factors such as “project mission,” “top management support,” and “project scheduling,” whereas tactical factors relate to “client consultation” and “personnel selection and training.”

These 10 factors are more or less “manageable” by the project team. Slevin and Pinto (1986) then extended this list with four additional factors considered outside the project implementation process and therefore outside the team's control: characteristics of the project team leader, power and politics, environmental events, and urgency. Many CSF lists and frameworks have been proposed by different authors, and some studies were done on the specific relation between a particular CSF and project success.

Exhibit 2 presents the importance rankings of critical success factors in various studies according to the Project Implementation Profile. In the ranking, “1” represents the most important and “10” represents the least important factor. As can be seen, there were differences in the findings between each study.

Exhibit 2 – Project Implementation Profile CSF importance rankings (Hyvari, 2006)

Project Implementation Profile CSF importance rankings (Hyvari, 2006)

Morris and Hough (1987) and Cooke-Davies (2002) suggested a range of critical success factors relevant to performance, including project team and management competencies relevant to large, complex projects, but also to projects in general.

The Standish Group (2003) collected data concerning the factors of greatest impact on IT project success. The top 10 success factors are: user involvement, executive support, experienced project manager, clear business objectives, minimized scope, agile processes, standard infrastructure, formal methodology, reliable estimates, and skilled staff.

Hartman and Ashrafi (2002) found that the “current literature on software projects shows that most of the software problems are of a management, organizational or behavioral nature, not technical”.

Given the uniqueness of projects and their temporary nature, research on CSFs will also take the project life cycle into account (Pinto & Prescott, 1988). According to these authors, in the project design phase, project mission and client consultation would appear to be the most important factors. In the project planning phase, the key success factors are project mission, top management support, client acceptance, and urgency. During project execution, the key factors are project mission, characteristics of the project team leader, troubleshooting, project schedules/plan, technical tasks, and client consultation. Finally, at project closing phase, the key success factors are technical tasks, project mission, and client consultation.

Belout and Gauvreau (2004) also constructed a model in which the relationship between the independent variables and project performance will be affected by the project life cycle, project structure and project sectors (intervening effect). Exhibit 3 summarizes literature reviews on critical factors for project success.

Exhibit 3 – Literature review on critical success factors for project success (Kuen, Zailani, & Fernando, 2008)

Literature review on critical success factors for project success (Kuen, Zailani, & Fernando, 2008)

Research in the area of CSFs and success criteria has demonstrated that it is simply impossible to develop an exhaustive list that will meet the needs of all projects. This is directly from the fact that success criteria and CSFs can differ so much from one project to another due to variables such as project scope, uniqueness, and complexity (Wateridge, 1998). There is limited research on the strength of the relationship between the critical factors and success criteria. So far, we have not seen any studies on the analysis of the causal effects between these factors and the performance of projects in Turkey.

Research Model and Hypotheses

The initial aim of this study is:

• To examine the relationships between critical success factors and project performance in the Turkish information technology sector.

• To determine the moderating effect of project team size, project duration, organization size and projectized organization structure on the relationship between critical success factors and project performance in Turkish information technology sector.

Thus, the study attempts to concentrate on these research questions that need further analysis.

  1. Is there a significant relationship between the critical success factors (the independent variables) and information technology project performance (the dependent variable) in the Turkish IT sector?
  2. Which critical success factors influence the project success most in the Turkish IT sector?
  3. Do moderating variables (project team size, project duration, organization size, and projectized organization structure) influence the relationship between critical success factors and project performance in the Turkish information technology sector.

The independent variables, identified as critical success factors by Slevin and Pinto (1986), are Client Acceptance, Client Consultation, Communications, Monitoring and Feedback, Personnel, Project Mission, Project Schedule or Plan, Technical Tasks, Top Management Support, and Troubleshooting. These factors established by Pinto (1986) and Slevin and Pinto (1986) were measured by the Project Implementation Profile (PIP) instrument.

Based on conclusions reached by previous researchers who used the Project Implementation Profile instrument to collect data (Culler, 2009; Jones, 2007; Finch, 2003; Delisle, 2001; Pinto & Slevin, 1989; Pinto & Prescott, 1988), the current study also involves the Project Implementation Profile instrument to collect data. The data will be used in statistical analysis to determine associations between critical success factors and information technology project performance. The definitions of critical success factors used in this research are:

Project Mission: Project mission involves establishing goals and clearly defined directions for project stakeholders in addition to the defined overall project objectives (Project Management Institute, 2008). Researchers at the Project Management Institute (2008) supported project mission as a critical success factor by documenting the activity as a best practice in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (Project Management Institute, 2008).

The “project charter” is used in creating the project scope statement to define the product characteristics to be delivered by the project team members. The scope statement is a project charter element that describes the extent of product functionality and establishes the project scope and the overall project objectives. The scope statement is broken down into smaller objectives, or tasks, to accomplish the desired product (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Management Support: Management support is executive management's willingness to authorize and delegate power to provide the necessary project resources (Project Management Institute, 2008).

The Project Management Institute (2008) supported top management support as a critical success factor by documenting the activity as a best practice in the (PMBOK® Guide). Researchers at the Project Management Institute documented the initiating group, including the project charter document as a deliverable published by the project sponsor. The project sponsor is empowered to authorize the project's existence and resource expenditure (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Project Schedule or Plan: Slevin and Pinto (1986) described the project schedule critical success factor as establishing the detailed individual task requirements necessary to implement a project. To establish the project schedule factor as an accepted practice, the planning guidelines published by Project Management Institute (2008) were referenced, including the activities categorized as planning. The planning group included activities performed by the project manager to collect specific task information from diverse sources (Project Management Institute, 2008).

The planning category involves activities related to establishing definite goals defined clearly for project resources such as creating a work breakdown structure. The structure is a hierarchy of required tasks to accomplish the project deliverables. The project deliverables sum is the product delivery providing a promised benefit to stakeholders (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Client Consultation: The fourth critical success factor is client consultation pertaining to project activities related to ensuring a quality product (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). The client consultation factor involves including users in the implementation process, providing client status communications, and actively listening to all stakeholders (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). End-user involvement increases the sense of ownership and increases product acceptance, thus improving the overall perceived project success (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Personnel: Personnel is the critical success factor associated with recruiting, selecting, and training individual project team members to participate in the project task (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). Human resource planning involves identifying all roles necessary to complete project tasks with details about role responsibilities and the staffing plan to fill each position (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Technical Tasks: The technical tasks critical success factor involves activities related to accomplishing technical objectives by ensuring the availability of the necessary technology and procedures (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). The planning activities included a process to determine which technology to attain for the project along with details about when and how to acquire the technology (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Client Acceptance: The seventh critical success factor is client acceptance. Client acceptance is uniquely distinguished from client consultation because acceptance is the final step in implementing the product (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). Pinto and Slevin described client acceptance as the process of securing end-user approval and using the product for its intended purpose. Collecting feedback from the client throughout the project cycles increases product acceptance by the client (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Monitoring and Feedback: The eighth critical success factor is monitoring and feedback, which Pinto (1986) defined as comprehensive information provided at milestones throughout the project life cycle to project stakeholders. To substantiate the monitoring and feedback factor as a widely accepted practice, researchers at the Project Management Institute (2008) documented associated guidelines pertaining to the monitor and control project activity category. The monitor and control category includes details about the process improvement measures along with early risk identification using forecasting reports in addition to status reports on scope, schedule, budget, and resources (Project Management Institute, 2008).

Communication: Pinto (1986) described the ninth critical success factor, communication, as establishing important communication channels and establishing necessary information flow. The information flow must be between project team members, other teams, and with the organization or the client (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). The Project Management Institute (2008) published a best practices guide describing communication as an important activity in the planning category.

Troubleshooting: The troubleshooting factor involves project team members to recognize that problems arise with most projects, regardless of careful planning. Project team members should make provisions to handle unexpected deviations from the plan (Pinto, 1986; Slevin & Pinto, 1986). Successful projects make provisions to manage problems and provisions to foresee and avert issues throughout the project life cycle (Pinto, 1986). To substantiate the troubleshooting factor as a widely accepted practice, researchers at the Project Management Institute (2008) documented associated activities in the monitor and control category. The monitor and control category included details on processes to monitor project execution and on identifying potential issues in a timely fashion to initiate corrective intervention (Project Management Institute, 2008).

The moderating variables are project team size, project duration, organization size, and projectized organization structure.

Project Team Size: A project team is composed of a core group of personnel from several functions assigned to a project for certain time. Project team size is the number of personnel allocated to the project for related tasks. As project team size increases, the coordination problems and effort will increase that may affect project success.

Project Duration: Project duration is the time frame between project initiation and closure phases. Cooke-Davies (2002) and Wateridge (1995) identified schedule duration as a critical factor.

Organization Size: Organization size is the number of employees working in the company. Hyvari (2006) found significant relationship with “communication.”

Projectized Organization Structure: In this study, the use of different types of organizations and their effectiveness in project management will be examined. The respondents will be asked to select the organization type that best describe their organization structure. The definitions that will be used are: functional, weak matrix, balanced matrix and projectized. The classic functional organization is a hierarchy where each employee has one clear superior. Weak matrices maintain many of the characteristics of a functional organization and the project manager role is more of a coordinator than that of a true project manager. In balanced matrices, project managers and functional managers jointly plan and direct workflow segments and approve decisions. In a projectized organization, most of the organization's resources are involved in project work and project managers have a great deal of independence and authority (Project Management Institute, 2008).

The dependent variable is project success. Project performance will be measured by an initial response from the participant about whether or not the project he or she selected was successful or unsuccessful. The dichotomous response is referred to as project success. The 13 statements pertaining to elements of project outcome identified by Slevin and Pinto (1986) also measured project performance. The scaled scores of the 13 statements will be referred to as project performance in the research study. These are project success statements:

  • On Schedule: Project finished as planned, on time.
  • On Budget: Project finished in estimated budget/cost.
  • Product Works: The output of the project works.
  • Product is Used: The output of the project is used by the estimated users.
  • Benefit the Users: The output of the project is for the benefit of the users in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Best Solution: The output of the project is the best solution for the request or problem of the client.
  • Important Clients Make Use of: Important clients use and satisfied from the output of the project
  • Project Team Satisfaction: The project team is satisfied to take part in the project.
  • Minimum Problems: The output of the project is accepted by the users and initial non-technical problems are minimal.
  • Increases User Effectiveness: The output of the project increases the decision-making effectiveness of the users.
  • Positive Impact on Users: The output of the project has a positive effect on the users.
  • Performance Improvement: The output of the project improves the operations/processes of the target population.
  • Success Perception: Generally, the project is thought to be a successful project.

Exhibit 4 – Research Model

Research Model

Hypotheses illustrate the possible outcomes related to research questions in a study (Creswell, 2005; Neuman, 2003). These research questions provide scope for the research study.

Hypothesis H1: A clear project mission is positively related to project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H2: High support from top management is positively related to project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H3: A detailed project schedule/plan is positively related to the project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H4: High client consultation is positively related to project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H5: Competent project personnel is positively related to the project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H6: The availability of technical tasks force is positively related to the project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H7: High client acceptance is positively related to the project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H8: Frequent monitoring and feedback activity is positive related to the project success in the Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H9: Effective and sufficient communication is positively related to the project success in Turkish IT sector.

Hypothesis H10: Capability in troubleshooting is positively related to the project success in the Turkish IT sector.

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©2013, Burak Uluocak
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Istanbul, Turkey

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