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Project Success is determined by set standards/criterion and by different factors that contribute to achieving the desired result. This article present two critical factors influencing project success.

Success in Life

Success is overly broad, abstract, and difficult to explain. For some, success can be “a measurement of how happy you are” (Richard Branson); to “liking what yourself, liking what you do and how you do it” (Maya Angelou); to “going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm” (Winston Churchill). Like beauty, success can have infinite definitions which vary depending on individual point of view.

In short, success can be clearly defined as the accomplishment of an aim, a purpose, or a goal. Whether it is a truly clear purpose – like being a millionaire in 5 years-time – or a more philosophical one – like being happy – the main characteristic of success, is that it varies depending on individual goals and perspectives. What can be a success to some, can be a failure to other. For example, buying a Ford might be a failure for someone who set the goal of buying a Lamborghini.

Success doesn’t depend only on having a goal. Many factors influence success. It does not matter how clear you envision it, or how much you want it; if some factors are not present, success can hardly be achieved. Most elite athletes are successful not only because they really want it but also because a set of circumstances and facts influence and contribute along their path to success. For instance, the nature of their bodies; their DNA; the support they receive from coaches/organizations; the well-planned training sessions; their mental discipline, etc. are some of the factors making success a possibility for these athletes.

Success in Projects

Projects are time-framed activities that are undertaken to produce deliverables that will help to fulfil requirements and objectives. In addition, projects create and provide benefits to the stakeholders and enable business value creation.

Projects must produce desired results within time, costs and quality constraints. This definition sets the tone to a set of criterion by which the project is judged as successful or not. Briefly, project success can be determined by the comparison of a set of results against a baseline and, moreover,  how those results were obtained within time, budget, and quality constraints.

Projects impact a varied group of people from customers/stakeholders to final users. They will all – at some point in time – have different expectations from the project and will judge project’s success based on their perspective. In other words, the same project might be considered as a failure by some and as a  success by others. Take The Millennium Dome for example. Despite delivered in time, this mega-structure located in London, was deemed a failure by the press based on “how many people it will attract” criteria but declared a success by others based on the “it is still used and serves its purpose” criteria.

The Millenium Dome O2 Arena in London

Similarily, Edinburgh’s Trams represents another example of a failed project based on costs & schedule overrun coupled with the negative impact to citizens during construction, but at the same time deemed as successful based on the positive economic impact to City Council.

The Millenium Dome O2 Arena in London

Factors Influencing Project Success

Remember the athlete’s example above? His/her success or failure depends on: No.1 principles and standards by which anything can be judge; and No. 2 circumstances, facts, or influences which contribute to a result. The former is known as the criterion and the latter as factors.

The same applies to projects. The criterion is used to deem a project as a success or a failure. On the other hand, factors are used – by organizations and project managers – to steer projects in the direction of success or failure.

The list of factors contributing to project success is extensive and range from the understanding and support of the corporation and executives to project management, to the maturity and knowledge level of resources managing and participating in the project.

This article focuses on two factors that – if properly applied – contribute to obtained the desired results in term of project success. These two factors contributing to project success are:

  1. Commitment of Project Manager to Planning.

  2. Organizational Support to Project Management.

Commitment of Project Manager to Planning

Throughout its effective life, a project passes through a series of phases. The group of these phases is defined as the project lifecycle. The most common lifecycle structure of a project consists of starting the project; organizing and planning all the job to be done to achieve objectives; executing & controlling all the work planned and finally closing out the project.

PMI’s Knowledge Areas and Process Groups Matrix

The Standard for Project Management identifies 49 activities to manage project effectively. These 49 activities are distributed in a matrix of 10 knowledge areas and 5 Process Groups.

The Millenium Dome O2 Arena in London

Source: PMI

Out of the five (5) Process Groups, Planning Process Group is the only one with activities distributed and linked with the 10 knowledge areas of Project Management, representing a critical stage of a project’s lifecycle. Its importance lies in the fact that it entails all “the processes necessary… to define the course of action required to attain the objectives that the project was undertaken to achieve” (PMI).

Therefore, Project Planning represents the formal creation and establishment of all the scope and the actions required to accomplish the project’s goals and objectives. Responding to what, when, how and by whom questions, is an essential part of planning.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Committing to any activity without a previous plan is risky. This principle applies to project management. To avoid further pain and losses, project managers and team members should resist the pressure to start to execute the work on the project and consider spending the necessary time planning.

Planning a project does not necessarily guarantee a successful result; however failing to prepare a sound and effective project plan, will surely result in an undesired outcome. Vice-versa, committing to prepare a project plan is the first step to a successful project. Most importantly, high-quality project planning facilitates high-quality project management throughout all the other phases of the project life-cycle.

Planning is a success factor

It is the entire responsibility of the Project Manager to ensure the existence of a project plan and, above all, to guarantee that project activities are executed according to what was originally planned. Firstly, it will result in stakeholders’ satisfaction and secondly in project success. In short, high-quality Project planning represents an essential and critical success factor and is correlated with perception of project success.

Organizational Support to Project Management

Planning is not the only contributor to project success. For instance, the level of support and understanding from an organization to project management becomes a key influence on achieving objectives.

An organization that doesn’t make the necessary effort to provide the project manager and project teams with the necessary support and processes to manage projects, is deemed to set the scenario to poorly managed and executed projects which will result in failed projects.

Engineering and Construction organizations, for example, understand the vital importance of supporting project management efforts. Their success is related to its “Organization Support” strength. These organizations are committed to providing teams with all the training, artifacts and support they might need.

Low-quality processes and undesired results obtained in other types of organizations are mainly derived from poor supportive structures and low levels of Organizational Support.

Fortunately enough, there exist some frameworks and models ideal to enhance the structure of the organization to support project management efforts. One of those models, propose the development or enhancement of Organizational Systems; Culture & Style; Structure and Project Offices, as the basis of effective Organizational support.

Conclusion

Projects’ success is influenced by criterion and standards and by what can be done to achieve the desired result. There are therefore project success criteria and project success factors. Project management knowledge and acumen – especially in project planning – is one of those factors influencing project success. Bad planning can be the end of a project while high-quality planning will highly likely result in a successful project. Project managers should not be left all alone managing a project just because they are supposed to. Without the necessary support and validation from their organization to their training, to their technique, to their processes etc.; project managers can hardly manage the project towards success.

Although it is undeniably true that stakeholders decide if your project is successful or not; it is also true that a proper mix project management know-how and organizational support to project management, becomes critical to obtain better project results and ultimately critical to project success.

Whenever faced with a project think about how the knowledge of your project manager can influence the outcomes. Also, do not forget that there needs to be the unbreakable commitment from the organization to create, maintain and improve support to project management processes. These two will ensure project success.

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