Determining Success of a Project

Keywords: project success criteria, project success factors

Success has always been the ultimate goal of every type of project. Many specialists in the field have performed extensive researches in an attempt to try and define what projects success is. Judging the success of a project is rather an elusive concept since most projects we hear may be a failure to one set of stakeholders while others may consider it to be a success. This article makes an attempt to define success in projects based on the work of experts in this field of study.


A project can be defined as a unique venture with a beginning and an end conducted by people to meet established goals within a parameter of cost reduced and quality increased (Field & Keller, P.2). furthermore a project has the following characteristics such as specific objectives, required resources, have a budget and schedule, and requires effort of community, measures quality and finally functions within a life cycle. On the contrary, project management can be defined as the way of controlling the success of the project objectives, by the use of existing managerial structure and capital to manage the project by linking a compilation of tools and skill without interrupting the regular function of a company.

The word success is a fascinating word as it’s is known universally and is broad in character; defining it is not easy, because if asked from different individuals its meaning would change according their perceptions. Project success can be considered as one of the indistinct concepts of project management. Since each stakeholder of a project has different needs and expectations, it is common to anticipate them defining project success in their own way of understanding (Cleland & Ireland, 2004, p2).

The Sydney Opera House project is a typical example of how different stakeholders have different perspectives of a project. The Opera house (Thomsett, 2002) took 4 times more of the original time to finish and its cost went 16 times over budget. But the final impact the Opera House created was so immense it simply made people overlook the project’s original unmet goals. The project was a huge hit for the general public even though it was considered as a failure in the view of project management. On the contrary, the construction of the Millennium Dome in London was a project that was completed on time and on budget but the British public considered it a failure because it didn’t deliver the glamour that it was originally expected to make (Cammack, 2005).

Since there is widespread variance of opinions in the study of “success in projects”, many learned writers seem to have given diverse views on this topic based on extensive research and surveys. Their works differentiate among project success, project success criteria and project success factors.

Project success

Jugdev and Muller (2005) in their article pointed out that in order to identify what success means in a project framework is like obtaining consensus from a group of individuals on the explanation of “Good Art”. Project success is a subject matter that is commonly talked about and yet very hardly settled upon (Baccarini, 1999). Commonly, the attitudes on project success have developed gradually over the years from simple explanations that were restricted to the implementation phase of the project life cycle to explanations that reflect gratitude of success over the whole project and product life cycle (Jugdev and Muller, 2005).

Cleland (1986) suggested that “project success is significant only if measured from two vantage points: the extent to which the project’s technical performance objective was accomplished on time and within budget; the contribution that the project made to the strategic mission of the organization.”

According to Pinto & Slevin (1988) in their research after sampling over 650 project managers concluded that, “Project Success” is something difficult than just meeting cost, time, and performance specifications. As a matter of fact, client’s contentment with the final result has a great deal to do with the perceived success or collapse of projects.

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Baccarini (1999) discovered two different components of project success:

Project Management Success – This concentrates upon the project process and specially the successful achievement of cost, time, and quality. Also the way in which the project management process was performed will be considered.

Product Success – This deals with the effects of the project’s final product. A clear difference should be made between product success and project management success, in order to properly identify and evaluate project management success and product success, as they are differ from each other.

According to Baccarini (1999), Project success can be summarized as

Project success = project management success + project product success

With this definition in mind, it is also important to comprehend what measures enable us to judge whether a project is successful or not. These measures are termed as Project success criteria.

Project success criteria

Crawford’s (2002) view is that project success is an important project management issue and also in discussions, a frequently discussed topic is, it is difficult to find an agreement on the criteria by which success is judged. (Pinto and Slevin 1988; Freeman and Beale 1992; Shenhar, Levy, and Dvir 1997; Baccarini 1999).

A study of literature also reveals that a greater level of agreement with the definitions given by Baker, Murphy and Fisher (1988) that project success is a subject of perception and it is considered to be an overall success if the project meets requirements such as technical performance specifications, mission to be performed. It also needs a high degree of satisfaction about the project results among the key people of the project team and the key users of the project effort

The renowned and famous criteria to measure project success have been known as “Golden Triangle” or “Iron Triangle”. Hence Cost, time and qulity is referd to as the central criteria of the “Golden Triangle” (Atkinson, 1999, p338). Atkinson continues that this method of measuring project success have not been changed or developed in almost fifty years (1999, p338).

According to Stuckenbruck (1986), assessment on project success should be done by different stakeholder groups such as customers, managers, employees, stockholders, etc. Thus it was proposed that the criteria for assessing project success should reflect different stakeholder views.

Freeman and Beale (1992) presented an appealing example of different perceptions of people. According to their study: “An architect may consider success in terms of aesthetic appearance, an engineer in terms of technical competence, an accountant in terms of dollars spent under budget, a human resources manager in terms of employee satisfaction, and chief executive officers rate their success in the stock market.” In their study Freeman and Beale (1992) identified and proposed seven main criteria for measuring success of projects.

Technical performance

Efficiency in project execution

Managerial and organizational implications

Personal growth

Project conclusion

Technical innovativeness and business performance

Manufacturing feasibility

Wideman (1996, p3-4) believes that project success is time dependant and therefore it should be assessed with time taken into consideration. The reason behind ‘time dependency’ is based on the fact that project success varies with time. Wideman(1996) illustrated four time dependant groups as mentioned below.

  1. Internal project objectives – efficiency during the project
  2. Benefit to customer – effectiveness in the short term
  3. Direct contribution – assessed in the medium term
  4. Future opportunity – assessed in the long term

Shenhar, Dvir and Levy(1997) constructed a universal multidimensional framework that would help in assessing project success. In their methodology, project success is perceived as a strategic management concept where the end result of the project would fit with the strategic direction of a company whom the end result of the project is originally intended to serve. Their study also revealed that project success is time dependant and thus they identified four groups and translated them into measurable criteria.

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Internal Project Efficiency (Pre-completion)

Meeting schedule

Completing within budget

Other resource constraints met

Impact of the Customer (Short term)

Meeting functional performance

Meeting technical specifications & standards

Favorable impact on customer, customer’s gain

Fulfilling customer’s needs

Solving customer’s problem

Customer is using product

Customer expresses satisfaction

Business and Direct Success (Medium term)

Immediate business/commercial recognition

Immediate revenue & profits enhanced

Larger market share generated

Preparing for the Future (Long term)

Will create new opportunities for the future

Will position customer competitively

Will create new market

Will assist in developing new technology

Will add/has added capabilities & competencies

Project success factors

As defined by Cooke-Davies “Success factors are those inputs to the management system that lead directly or indirectly to the success of the project or business” (Cooke-Davies, 2002, p185). In practice, some project managers instinctively determine their own project success factors. However, most of these factors are not clearly documented, thus are not considered to become a part of formal project management literature or historical project data (Rad & Levin, 2002, p18).

From the 1980s to 2000 many researchers have attempted to identify success factors for projects. Kerzner (1987), Pinto and Slevin (1987-1989), (Sadeh, Dvir, & Shenhar, 2000), Cooke Davis (2002) and Muller and Turner (2005) are among the top researchers who have conducted extensive researches in this area of study.

The table below (Table 1) points out critical success factors that were identified by specialists, and were later reviewed and tabulated by Belassi and Tukel (1996).

Baker, Murphy and Fisher (1983)

Clear goals

Goal commitment of project team

On-site project manager

Adequate funding to completion

Adequate project team capability

Accurate initial cost estimates

Minimum start-up difficulties

Planning and control techniques

Absence of bureaucracy

Lock (1984)

Make project commitments known

Project authority from the top

Appoint competent project manager

Set up communications and procedures

Set up control mechanisms (schedules, etc.)

Progress meetings

Cleland and King (1983)

Project summary

Operational concept

Top management support

Financial support

Logistic requirements

Facility support

Market intelligence (who is the client)

Project schedule

Executive development and training

Manpower and organization

Information and communication channels

Project review

Pinto and Slevin (1989)

Top management support

Client consultation

Personnel recruitment

Technical tasks

Client acceptance

Monitoring and feedback



Characteristics of the project team leader

Power and politics

Environment events


Table 1 – Critical success factors tabulated by Belassi and Tukel (1996).

Belassi and Tukel (1996) in their study, analyzed the above mentioned success factors and grouped them into four areas.

Factors related to the project

Factors related to the project managers and the team members

Factors related to the organization

Factors related to the external environment.

It is evident that whatever critical success factors that are known, can be grouped under these four areas identified by Belassi and Tukel (1996).

Dvir, Raz, & Shenhar (2003) conducted a survey among 100 Israeli defense projects, and their findings pointed out a noteworthy positive connection between the project’s success and each of the factors listed below.

The amount of effort spent in defining and identifying the goals of the project

The functional requirements

Technical specifications of the project

According to Verma (1995, 1996) communication, leadership and teamwork are essential for efficient management of project human resources and are vital to achieve project objectives successfully.

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Murray, J.P. (2001) identified nine factors that could drive an IT project into success or failure.

Proper senior management commitment to the project

Ample amount of project financial support

A well defined set of project requirements and specifications

Cautious development of a all-inclusive project plan that incorporates enough time and flexibility to foresee and deal with unanticipated difficulties as they arise

A proper commitment of time and attention from the client, combined with a enthusiasm to see it through to the end

Frank, accurate reporting of the status of the project and of potential complexities as they arise

A critical assessment of the risks inherent in the project, and potential harm associated with those risks, and the ability of the project team to manage those risks

The development of appropriate contingency plans

An objective evaluation of the capability and enthusiasm of the organization to stay on the project course

Turner & Müller (2004, 2005) conducted studies on the impact of project manager and his/her involvement and leadership style on project success. Turner & Müller (2005) believe that past literature on the subject of Project success factors, have ignored the impact of a project manager on project success. However, Turner and Muller (2005, p59) has rather given a contradictive conclusion that “the leadership style and competence of the project manager have no impact on project success”.

In concern to project management, project success also relies on the capability to systematize, coordinate, and support a diverse group functioning towards a common target. Project success factors may differ depending on the type of project. Thus it is important to have a clear idea on what factors drives each type of project toward success. This would enable the project stakeholders to accomplish what they perceive as success.


In the past it was believed that if a project’s completion time exceeds its due date, or expenses overran the budget, or its results did not satisfy a company’s preset performance criteria, the project was considered to be a failure. At present it is understood that determining whether a project is a success or failure is far more complex.

It is important for a project manager to be aware of what the stakeholders consider as a successful project. In order to avoid any surprises at the end of the project, it is important to identify the different perspectives of what success means before the project begins.

It is generally agreed that schedule and budget performance may be considered as insufficient measures of project success however they are still important components of the overall constructs. Quality is interconnected with issues of achievement of functional objectives, specifications and issues of technical performance. It is also understood that a project’s success varies with time and varies in the eye of various project stakeholders. Thus, a criteria used to assess project success should be time dependent and should be using multiple perspectives of stakeholders. However, future studies may reveal other successful means of success criteria.

As for success factors, they can be generally grouped into four distinct sets. General management literature shows how effective leadership is a success factor in organizations, and has revealed that a proper leadership style can lead to better performance. However studies on leadership in project context are contradicting with this perception. A common factor pointed out by many authors is that senior management support is one of the most important factors that can drive projects toward success or failure. Success factors may vary depending on the project type. In conclusion, early classification of success criteria can ensure a definite view of how the project will be judged and early detection of success factors will assure a safe path to deliver success.

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