Exploring Success Factors and Measures; 1 of 2

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
The last month brought us two interesting media events, an interview for a CIO magazine article and an IPMA-USA Dialogue webinar. Both covered key aspects of project success. Though independent events, both showed synchronicity around a frequently-discussed, but often disputed topic: What is success, and how do you achieve and measure it? The events covered two aspects of project success, the Success Factors (that lead to success) and the Success Measures (used to evaluate success). This first of two postings covers the Success Factors.

The Success Factors
Success Factors, also called Critical Success Factors (CSFs), are the activities or factors in a project that are essential for it to meet its goals and expectations. They are enablers of success. We recently participated in an interview for the CIO magazine article, IT Project Management: 10 Less-Considered Keys to Success. The article explored comments in a discussion at the magazine’s CIO Forum LinkedIn group (access only with approval). The lively discussion revolved around the most important, but least-well-known Success Factors, or inputs, for a successful IT project.

The first-mentioned Success Factor was (drumroll, please) A Clear Definition of Success. And, while the forum and article are targeted to CIOs and Information Technology projects, most of the comments apply to most project types, in any industry. One participant commented that too often success is based merely on elements of the “triple constraint”. He commented that project teams need to understand the expected value proposition of the project—and then achieve it.

Other factors cited by the CIOs revolved around being willing to make unpopular decisions, the importance of user training and go-live support, clear roles and responsibilities (one of our favorites, see below), transparency in managing scope, and others. We recommend that you read the article, and explore your own reactions to the stated key Success Factors. Interestingly (to us), most of the factors cited should be established and verified during project initiation, and in less-successful project they are unfortunately skipped in the rush to closure.

From our own perspective, many of the Success Factors also help influence Success Measures. When they are present, they are not only inputs to success, but tend also to raise success measure scores. Such taken-for-granted factors as Customer Involvement, the Right Talent, Effective Communication, and PM Competence, for example, are the first things we look for when we engage in PM Performance improvement:

  1. Involvement or responsibility of the right internal customers in the right activities and results, at the right time in the project. For years we have shown the cause-and-effect relationship between customer involvement in certain key activities and results, and successful organizational change. Change Management doesn’t just happen at project end, but begins at project initiation.
  2. Placing the right talent on the team with the right allocation of their time not only affects project measures such as time and cost for the delivered scope, but also tends to improve the quality of the results. This quality improvement is often the difference between whether the business needs are met—or not.
  3. Communicating early and often with key stakeholders during the project tends to cause those who evaluate the business results to give higher post-project measurement scores. Especially important is to engage project result end-users early in the project, to help them establish their sense of ownership in the project’s results.
  4. PM Performance Competence is not just required of the project manager. Each team member, internal customer, PMO consultant, resource manager or executive must be competent in the actions required by their roles. This is the purpose of PM CompModel, the ProjectExperts’ competence assessment model for all PM-related roles. And, the subject area experts must also be competent in their roles, whether they are architects, construction engineers, or database designers.

These Success Factors are central to the Performance Criteria in IPMA-USA’s organizational assessment model, PRO: Performance Rated Organization. Of course, there are many more project Success Factors, including the right enabling policies, clear roles and responsibilities (as cited by the savvy CIOs in the article), appropriate and intelligently-followed processes, and (intentionally last) the right enabling technologies. And now we have a request: What Success Factors would YOU add?

To relate the Success Factors back to the article in CIO magazine: The participating CIOs in the discussion forum have a good handle on many of the Success Factors for an IT project. Because their focus was on the less-well-known factors, we don’t know if our favorites are also on their radar. But not surprisingly, as mentioned above, their factors also apply to most other internal projects as well.

See part 2 of this posting, where we discuss The Success Measures.

Your Comments?