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Project Success

'The subject of project success is at the heart of project management' (Mueller and Jugdev 2012: 758), since the project is expected to satisfy the needs of project stakeholders, be they internal (e.g. management) or external (e.g. customers). Attempts to agree on the term 'success', however, have failed, since it is determined by whose measures one is using, what these measures are, and over what timeframe the measurements are taken (Morris 2009). Furthermore, there is a distinction between success criteria and success factors. The former are metrics, defined and monitored as part of performance management (see Chapter 4), while the latter recognise inputs to processes, structures and relationships that lead to the success of the project.


A distinction is made between project success and project management success. Top management is more interested in project success since a successfully completed project produces positive business results. The lack of project success is usually associated with poor understanding of customer requirements, scope creep, unrealistic planning and lack of resources to complete the project. While these appear to be obvious factors, there currently is a lack of generally accepted definitions of what constitutes project success or failure (Young and Jordan 2008).

Project management success is seen as a subset of project success (Munns and Bjeirmi 1996). Top management becomes interested in the calibre of project management when a project fails to meet budget estimates or is completed behind schedule. Not much can be done then to rectify failure, and more attention should have been given to prediction and prevention of problems that impact on project completion. A good project manager should be judged by his/her proactive (anticipating what may happen in future) and not reactive skills (looking to the past). The latter is only relevant when the project team learns from its experiences so that mistakes are not repeated in future projects.

There is some interaction between project success and project management success in providing total success. Munns and Bjeirmi (1996: 86) recognised this: 'The right project will succeed almost without the success of project management, but successful project management could enhance its success. Selecting the right project at the outset and screening out potentially unsuccessful projects, will be more important to ensuring total project success.'

Contextual factors play a large part in the diversity associated with project success. Success varies for different project types and their life cycle phases, industries, individuals and organisations, and will always be 'in the eyes of the beholder' (Mueller and Jugdev 2012: 768). New influences continue to emerge, such as the growing interest in social sustainability and business ethics. Mueller and Jugdev (2012) referred to the increasing importance of contextual factors as reflecting the multi-dimensional and networked nature of project success.


Approaches to establishing project success have evolved over time and dear patterns can be observed from the project management literature. In the 1980s, the focus was on project implementation, then on the concepts phase and dose- out phase, and '[t]oday, the success literature spans the entire produd life cycle and extends from produd success to business success' (Mueller and Jugdev 2012: 767). A paradigm shift regarding 'success' is occurring in which greater importance is placed on organisational than on project constructs.

Recent developments have seen a shift from measuring the success of tactical project management, with its aim of operational efficiency in time, costs and quality, to strategic project management that provides business values. The former is an efficiency measure ('doing things right') compared to the latter's effectiveness aim ('doing the right things'). Attention has moved from the success of managing individual projects to that of project portfolio and programme management. In parallel, success now indudes intangible, less quantifiable outcomes (e.g. customer satisfaction) in addition to tangible, quantifiable outcomes (e.g. cost savings). The former take longer to achieve and are influenced strongly by contextual factors.

Cooke-Davis (2002) established what he termed the 'real' success factors in three areas through a survey of 70 large multi-national and national organisation s. These are success in project management, the project itself and the organisation. As seen below, many of the factors reflect the orientation of this book. Project management success was identified as the traditional measure of performance against time and costs. To achieve on-time performance, the research identified a number of factors that need to be executed well. They were company-wide education about risk management, allocating ownership and responsibility for managing risk, making use of the risk register highly visible and, interestingly, keeping the project duration as short as possible, preferably below one year. To stay within the cost budget requires tight scope-change control and establishing and comparing performance against a measurement baseline.

Project success was measured against the overall performance of the project. The critical success factors were the project management success factors outlined above, with an additional one. This is the use of a project benefit delivery management process in which both project management staff and organisational management participate to ensure that project benefits are realised. The third major area, corporate success, was measured against the overall performance of the organisation arising from the completion of projects. Three factors were identified. First, portfolio and programme management practices that ensure that projects are aligned with corporate strategy and satisfy business objectives. Second, the use of metrics to provide effective feedback on project performance so that the project portfolio and programme can be realigned, if necessary. Third, seeking continuous improvement in project management through Teaming from experience', incorporating both explicit and tacit knowledge.

Relevance of Project Success to Project Risk Governance

Project results continue to disappoint stakeholders (Cooke-Davies 2002) and hence management demands to know where to put their energies and resources to maximise the chances of project success and avoid failure. Project success factors do not appear to include performance in PRG, but include aspects of project risk management. As project success is increasingly determined by its contribution to business value, a shift occurs towards project governance through the involvement of the Project Management Office, project sponsors, steering committees and programme/portfolio management (Mueller and Jugdev 2012). A similar development is predicted for PRG. An important element of project success will be the effectiveness of PRG implementation.

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