PROJECT SUCCESS AND THE CONCEPT OF SUCCESS FACTORS

A COMPREHENSIVE LITERATURE REVIEW

BY FAKHER A. OMEZZINE
Abstract- The nature of nowadays large-scale complex projects necessitates the application of appropriate and adequate project management models, as well as full knowledge of project success drivers. Since the mid-19th century, project management scholars have been undertaking a significant deal of work on project success. They have developed multidimensional frameworks that discard the deficient focus on simple measurements of time, cost, and performance, to define project success. In fact, Reaching projects' objectives in compliance with constraints of cost, time and performance is insufficient to determine projects' success. Within this context, project management scholars identified several other critical factors that are responsible for the success of a project. This paper aims to present an overview of the current literature on the topic of project success and the concept of project success factors.

1. Introduction

It is widely agreed that, when project management has emerged in the 1950's, it mainly focused on planning and scheduling, managing budget, and evaluating performance. During that time, due to the nature of most projects, which focused mainly on production, customer contact and long-term follow-up were not common. However, as projects varied in nature and size, further studies realized that the Iron Triangle of time, cost, and quality, is no longer adequate to define project success. Thus, project management scholars started investigating other dimensions that affect the success or failure of a project.

In this context, the first systematical classification of critical success factors in the area of project management was provided by Schultz, Slevin, and Pinto (1987). These authors classified success factors into two groups; strategic and tactical. The strategic success factors are mainly related, but are not limited to, top management support, project mission, and project scheduling, while the tactical success factors include client consulting, human resource selection and personnel training. However, Pinto and Slevin (1989) later learned that this categorization is insufficient, as it needs to consider the different phases of the project life cycle. In fact, project management scholars later agreed with Pinto and Slevin's findings, and proposed sets of critical project success factors based on the various phases of the project's life cycle.

2. Project success

2.1 Extending the traditional view of Project Success

The concept of project success remains one of the most frequently discussed subjects in the field of project management. However, project management scholars continue to disagree upon it. Greer (1999) stated that the most basic definition of project success, which is still being used by many practitioners, is the completion of an activity while satisfying the three project constraints, namely, cost, time and performance. However, cost, time and performance are insufficient to measure a certain project's success, as we also need to consider the stakeholder's satisfaction and the quality of the project management process (Baccarini, 1999; Schwalbe, 2004). Thus, reforming the traditional triangle (Figure 1) by involving the stakeholder's satisfaction and the quality of the project management process allows a more comprehensive conception of project success.
project success - extended
Figure 1: Project success: extending the traditional view (Westhuizen and Fitzgerald, 2005)

In a profound examination of 20 failing projects, Thomsett (2002) expands this definition by including two additional points; meeting the functional requirements, and providing the project team with professional learning.

In the same context, Kerzner (2009) stated that "in addition to time, cost, and performance or specification level, the project has to be completed:
  • With the customers' acceptance
  • Without disturbing the organization's fundamental workflow
  • Without altering the corporate culture
  • With the least possible mutually agreed scope changes"
In order to justify his position, Kerzner (2009) indicates that project managers need to manage projects within the policies, rules, procedure, and the guidelines of the parent organization, in order to preserve its main workflow. In addition to that, the project manager should not expect his assigned team to diverge from their company's cultural norms. Moreover, Kerzner (2009) believes that scope changes are vital to the entire project and therefore they should be kept to a minimum and approved by both the project manager and the customer.

2.2 Project-management success and project-product success

However, Baccarini (1999) argues that project success is a combination of project- management success and project-product success. Project-product success refers to the actual deliverability of the project and successfully providing "the benefits to the many stakeholders involved with the project such as the users, customers or the project staff" (Atkinson, 1999). Baccarini (1999) mentioned that being over budget or schedule means failure in project management, however, the project's product could still be a success. Thus, he suggests that the extended model in Figure 1 is not sufficient to measure success of a project as it ignores several factors that can only be measurable at the post-delivery stage of the project (Atkinson, 1999).

Accordingly, DeLone & McLean (2003) believe that project-product success can be measured based on "system quality, information quality, information use, user satisfaction, individual impact, and organizational impact". Westhuizen and FitzGerald (2005) developed an advanced model (Figure 2) that examines how a product is successfully delivered while showing the different implementation phases and the relationship with customer experience. According to Westhuizen and Fitzgeral (2005), this model can be adapted to any project by replacing the 'system quality,' 'information quality' and the 'service quality' factors with appropriate specific industry concepts.
advanced project success model
Figure 2: Advanced Project Success Model (Westhuizen and Fitzgerald, 2005)

2.3 Project success criteria within the project's life cycle

In the same context, Shenhar et al. (2002) also argued that equating success with meeting the project's schedule, budget, and performance, is a misleading measure. They also mentioned that the concept of project success varies according to the assessor; "an architect may consider success in terms of aesthetic appearance, an engineer in terms of technical competence, an accountant in terms of expenditure under budget, and a human resources manager in terms of employee satisfaction " (Shenhar et al., 2002). Thus, they contend that a comprehensive understanding of success needs to consider different interests and views.

In another study, Shenhar et al. (1997) proposed a multidimensional universal framework that assesses project success, which include the following four dimensions: project efficiency, impact on the customer, direct and business success, and preparing for the future.

The first dimension- project efficiency- is a short time measure that indicates to what extent the project process has been efficiently managed. In other words, this dimension shows if the project has been completed within the schedule and budget. The second dimension –impact on the customer- includes satisfying the customer by meeting the functional requirements, technical specifications and performance measures. The third dimension –business and direct success- addresses the impact the project had on the organization, mainly improving the total performance of an organization by ameliorating performance time, yield, quality of the process, and cycle time (Hammer & Champy, 1993). The fourth dimension – preparing for the future- is the longest-term dimension and answers the following questions:
  • "How does the organization prepare for future opportunities?"
  • "Does it explore new opportunities for further markets, ideas, innovations and products?"
  • "Does it build new skills that may be needed in the future, or develop new technologies and core competencies?"
  • "Is it prepared to make a change and create the future in its industry or to adapt quickly and meet additional challenges, unexpected moves of competitors, and market and technology surprise?"
Based on Shenhar et al.'s findings (1997), the assessment of project success needs to be undertaken in an integrative manner, in which all four dimensions are considered. This is due to the fact that the importance of these dimensions is time-dependent (Figure 3). "The first dimension is assessed in the very short term, during project execution and completion. The second dimension is assessed after delivering the project to the customer. The third dimension can only be assessed after several years of delivering the project (depending on the project type). The fourth dimension can only be assessed after a longer period of time (usually more than five years)".
Time-dependency of project success
Figure 3: Time-dependency of the importance of the four project's success dimensions (Shenhar et al., 1997)

3. Project success factors

Project management researchers have been striving to identify factors that lead to project success since the 1960s and have attained several conclusions that have been largely disclosed in project management literature. However, in spite of all the effort to determine projects' success factors, despite all the acquired individual and collective experience in project management, and despite the continuous growth in project management professional bodies' membership, project results are still disappointing to the different stakeholders.

Although there has been a consensus regarding the importance of the concept of success factors for project management practice, project management scholars have different views and definitions of this aspect. Prabhakar (2008) mentioned in this context "the only agreement is the disagreement on the issue of what is project success ". Kerzner (1987) defined success factors for a project as all the elements that are needed to form an environment where we can manage projects consistently with excellence.

3.1 First classification of project success factors

In parallel, Schultz, Slevin and Pinto (1987) provided the first systematic classification of success factors for project management. According to these authors, these factors can be classified into two groups, strategic and tactical. The strategic success factors are mainly related, but are not limited to, top management support, project mission, and project scheduling. The tactical success factors include client consulting, human resource selection and personnel training.

Pinto and Slevin (1989) later learned that this categorization is insufficient, as it needs to consider the different phases of the project life cycle. Kerzner (2001) agreed with Pinto and Slevin's findings, as he stated that the concept of project success was always linked to the "completion of project activities in the due term, budget, and expected quality". Additionally, he mentioned that recently, this has changed to include "limitation of minimum changes in the scope of activities without interruptions in the workflow, without shifts in the corporate culture, and with full acceptance of results by the project client" (Kerzner, 2001).

In addition to Kerzner, Khang and Moe (2008) also agreed with Pinto and Slevin's findings, and expanded them further by proposing sets of critical project success factors based on the various phases of the project's life cycle as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1. Project Critical Success Factors
Project Critical Success Factors

3.2 Overview of the most important success factors identified by project management scholars

While Kerzner, Khang and Moe agreed with Slevin and Pinto on the fact that the importance of success factors varies from one stage to another of the project's life cycle, Kerzner et al. had different views about the critical success factors to be considered as seen in Table 2. The different literature reviews seen in Table 2 confirms that reaching conclusions regarding the reasons for the success or failure of a particular project is as complex as project management itself.

Fortune and White (2006) conducted an investigation that included 63 publications about critical success factors (CSF) and concluded that there is poor consensus between different project management scholars on the factors influencing project success. They determined three frequently cited factors, which are: "the importance of a project receiving support from senior management; having clear and realistic objectives; and producing an efficient plan". Ofori (2013) provided a summarized literature review on project critical success factors from several authors (Table 2) that reflect the disagreement upon this aspect.

Table 2. Summarized literature reviews on project's critical success factors
literature review of project success factors
Source: International Journal of Business and Management (2013)

3.3 Ofori's Conceptual framework for assessing project success factors

Ofori (2013) developed a conceptual model (Figure 4) that considers, in addition to cost, schedule, and performance, social, cultural, political and economic factors, as well as communication, stakeholder involvement, leadership and competency. Ofori (2013) believes that there are endogenous environmental factors that influence the different critical factors, and subsequently the project's outcome. He stated that these factors include political, socio-cultural, economical, governmental, technical and operational environment. Ofori (2013) stated that these factors act as "filters" as the more pervasive they are, the higher their impact is on the project's outcome.
Generic Project Success Factors
Figure 4. Ofori's Conceptual framework for assessing the quality of project management practices and critical success factors (Ofori, 2013)

3.4 Belassi and Tukel's holistic critical success factors framework

A previous framework developed by Belassi and Tukel (1996) also addressed the drawbacks in the literature by grouping factors into four interrelated categories: • "Factors related to the project, • Factors related to the project manager and the team members, • Factors related to the organization, and • Factors related to the external environment."
3.4.1 Factors related to project
Belassi and Tukel (1996) listed six factors they believe are related to the project. These are the size and the value of a project, the density of a project network, the uniqueness of project activities, the urgency of a project outcome, and the project life cycle. According to the authors, large projects usually exceed their schedule's deadline, and they consequently suffer from imposed penalties such as loss of credibility and various monetary/ financial sanctions. Therefore, organizations should be aware of the project's size while considering the organizational familiarity with the type of the undertaken project.

Further, Belassi and Tukel (1996) mentioned that the uniqueness of the project's activities particularly affects the project manager's performance as the more standard the activities are, the better performance the project manager has. Moreover, the authors mentioned that the project's density, which is the ratio of total number of precedence relationships to the total number of activities, should be emphasized, as it affects resources allocation and consequently, results in projects' delay. Finally, Belassi and Tukel (1996) stated that the higher the project urgency is, the higher the chances that the project will fail. This is mainly due to the fact that projects with high urgency suffer from poor planning and scheduling as a result to the time constraint.

According to Belassi and Tukel (1996), even though the factors are grouped in different categories, they are highly interrelated, as factors can influence other factors from another group, while factors from various groups can lead to project's success or failure. "For instance, top management support is a factor related to an organization which can be affected by the general state of the economy. Similarly, the uniqueness of project activities can affect the project manager's competence on the job. Lack of top management support with the project manager's lack of competence on the job might lead to project failure" (Belassi and Tukel, 1996).

The authors mentioned that one of the main advantages of this framework is that it can easily detect whether the success (or failure) is related to the project manager, and/or to external factors, and/or to the project itself. In addition to that, this framework also assists project managers to comprehend the intra-relationships among factors from separate groups. In order to explain their view, they mentioned that while "resources" for instance, is regarded as a necessary factor for project completion in the literature, they consider it as a "systems response to organizational, environmental, and project management-related factors, including project managers' negotiation skills and top management support" (Belassi and Tukel, 1996).
3.4.2 Factors related to the project manager and the team members
Belassi and Tukel (1996) stated that these are the factors that are directly linked to the project manager's and team member's skills and characteristics. Pinto and Slevin (1989) have already revealed in a previous study that appointing project managers with the appropriate administrative and technical skills is an important factor for successful project completion. Moreover, they agreed that the project team's competence is found to be more crucial during the implementation stage, while the project managers' commitment and competence become most critical during the planning and termination phases. Belassi and Tukel (1996) mentioned that these factors affect project acceptance and client satisfaction as much as they affect the project's performance.
3.4.3 Factors related to the organization
According to Belassi and Tukel (1996), these are the factors that affect the project's organizational support. In this context, Tukel and Rom (1995) agreed that top management support is one of the most vital factors for projects' success, independently of the industry. They stated that top management ordinarily administers the project manager's access to resources, which are directed by functional managers. This control over resources' acquisition is usually seen as an obstacle, especially for projects with pure project forms, or for projects with matrix organizational forms.

However, if the project is part of the functional department, and thus the project manager is also the functional manager, availability of resources is no longer a barrier. Decidedly, factors affecting the organizational support for a project have a powerful impact on the project's success.
3.4.4 Factors related to the external environment
These factors are totally external to the project, but still have an impact on the success or failure of a given project. In this context, Belassi and Tukel (1996) identified a number of environmental factors that can affect the project's performance. Pinto and Slevin (1989) introduced these factors in a previous empirical study, which include political, social, economic, factors related to the advances in technology, and factors related to nature, and confirmed that most of them affect a project during its planning stage.

However, Morris and Hough (1987) believe that these environmental factors affect projects at all stages of their life cycle. As an example, they indicated that factors as natural disasters or the public attitude towards a project could influence a project at any of its life cycle phases. Additionally, Belassi and Tukel (1996) believe that clients that are outside of the organization should also be considered as an external factor affecting the project's performance. However, they stated that if the client is part of the organization, which is the case for functional projects, factors related to the client are grouped under factors related to the organization. Moreover, they announced that factors such as competition and subcontractors, in addition to any factor that might affect the client's consultation and acceptance, should be listed as external environmental factors.

4. Conclusion

The assessment of the pertinent literature recent literature on the topics of project success and critical success factors reveals that there can never be an agreed understanding over the concept of project success, as it is assessed differently based on distinct context. Although there has been a consensus regarding the importance of the concept of success factors for project management practice, project management scholars have different views and definitions of this aspect. Still, most authors agree that project success goes beyond simply satisfying the three project constraints, namely, cost, time and performance. Thus, other factors affecting projects' success need to be identified during the conception phase, and since most projects environments are dynamic, relevant critical success factors need to be identified for each of the project life cycle phases.

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