Project success: success factor and success criteria

1.Since the 1960s there have been an increasing number of Project Management

scholars that have expressed concerns regarding the ways to manage the success or failure of a project. Crawford (2000) theorised that there are two major avenues of thought in this area being: how success is judged and the factors that contribute to the success. These two avenues were later crowned ‘success factors’ and ‘success criteria’ respectively of which both will be discussed in depth during this essay to provide an insight for future project management scholars.

2.The way by which a project is judged as to whether it is successful or not has

long since been deliberated by many Project Management scholars. Crawford’s (2000) efforts to detail these criteria has helped however a better understanding is required such that each project manager or key stakeholder can choose as to what criterion will defined whether the project is a success or failure. This section will elaborate on Crawford’s (2000) studies by drawing on one of her principle advisers, Atkinson.

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Atkinson uses the Iron Triangle as the foundation of the work and then building on it to develop a robust methodology for success.


Figure 1: Iron Triangle (Atkinson, 1999)


Iron Triangle. Oilsen (1971) over fifty years ago stated that the Iron Triangle

(Atkinson, 1999) of Time, Cost and Quality were the key success criteria for any project. This triangle was reduced to just time and budget by Wright (1997) however Turner (1993), Morris (1987), Wateridge (1998), deWit (1988), McCoy (1987), Pinto and Slevin (1988), Saarinen (1990), and Ballantine (1996) all agree that the Iron Triangle should be used albeit not exclusively.

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Temporary use of criteria can be used during certain parts of the project to ascertain whether or not a project is going to plan. An example of temporary criteria that was used by Meyer (1994) was the earned value method.

The Earned value method in a project can demonstrate it the project is on track, specifically when earned value (what the project is worth at that time) is less than actual costs it means the project is over budget. This is countered however by deWitt (1988) that states when costs are used as a control they manage progress rather than project success. Atkinson (1999) adds that some projects may need to be bound by time; he uses a Millennium project (e.g. a computer system with a potential year 2000, Y2K, bug) as an example, if the project doesn’t meet the time constraint it could have catastrophic consequences.


Alter (1996) considers process and organisational goals as another measure,

utilising the concept of ‘did they do it right’ and ‘did they get it right’; this gives rise to the concept of measuring success both during and after the project. Atkinson (1999) reflects this concept by the introduction of the ‘Square Root,’ which proposes three additional criteria to the Iron
Triangle. The three additional criteria for determining project success are: the technical strength of the resultant system, the benefits to the

resultant organisation (direct benefits) and the benefits to the wider stakeholder community (indirect benefits). A detailed breakdown of the Square Root is explained in table 1.








(stakeholder community)



Improved efficiency,

Satisfied users, Social and



Improved effectiveness,

Environmental impact.



Increased profits,

Personal development,


Strategic goals,

Professional learning, and

quality use


contractors’ profits.

Reduced waste

Capital suppliers, content
project team, economic
impact to surrounding

Table 1: The Square Root (Atkinson, 1999)

Figure 2: The Square Root (Atkinson, 1999)


The Information System. Whilst Atkinson (1999) doesn’t detail the

information system success criteria other than what is described in the table it is reasonable to suggest he was concerned with the ‘ilities’ of the project. Essentially Atkinson was considering the maintenance of the project to ensure that it was not only resourced but also governed that the information would support its continued success.


Organisational Benefits. Success of a project must not only be considered

from an individual perspective, rather it must look at how it will also benefit the organisation. Table 1 presents these areas however there are two areas that must be considered individually, namely efficiency and effectiveness. Success of a project is not necessarily guaranteed due to efficiency, reducing the amount of workload due to shortening of processing won’t necessarily help without the consideration of effectiveness. Effectiveness considers whether or not the goals are being achieved thus when placed with efficiency it ensures that the goals are being achieve quickly and in full.


Stakeholder Community Benefits. The final area of the Square Root that

Atkinson considers is the success criterion that benefits the stakeholder community. These criterion consider the wider benefits of not just the direct outcomes of the project rather this area considers the stakeholder satisfaction and the social and environmental impacts that the project provides. These areas in a house project for example are criteria that improve the socioeconomic factors of the community around the actual house.

Thus this project could use improved gardens or visual impacts of the housing project that will improve the community’s view of the suburb rather than just that particular site. These secondary and tertiary impacts provide success criteria for the project. Furthermore in the acquisition of a new aircraft for military the stakeholder community benefits that could be used as success criteria could be the level of host nation employment or involvement to improve their knowledge base. Thus whilst it may not improve the actual new aircraft it will allow the host nation to build the aircraft themselves next time that that nation wishes to purchase a new aircraft.


Since the late 1960’s Project Management scholars have been trying to establish

the factors that lead to project success (Baker, 1988) (Pinto, 1988) (Lechler, 1988), which have led to conclusions being published for project management practitioners. Despite decades of research and countless articles being written (Kloppenborg, 2000) (Morris, 1994) projects continue to disappoint stakeholders (O’Connor and Reinsborough 1992) (Standish Group, 1995) (Cooke-Davies, 2000). So what factors actually lead to successful projects? Cooke-Davies (2002) states that project success

factors are based upon answering three separate questions: “What factors are critical to project management success?”, “What factors a critical to individual success on a project?” and “What factors lead to consistently successful projects?” 9.

What factors are critical to project management success? Cooke-Davies

(2002) analysed a selection of 136 mainly European projects which varied in size and scope however had an average of $16M over a period of two years, a detailed breakdown is at (Cooke-Davies, 2000). The analysis found a surprising differentiation between the correlation of schedule delay and cost escalation, only a small amount of cost escalation was accounted for schedule delay. This analysis found that when adequacy and maturity specific project management practices are compared with the performance of each criterion then different practices are found to correlate significantly.

This correlation relates to nine factors (the first nine factors depicted at Table 1). The analysis for “Adequacy of documentation of organisational responsibilities on the project” is depicted at figure 1 with the vertical axis showing the 95% confidence interval of time predictability and the horizontal axis showing ‘not at all adequate’(1) to ‘fully adequate’(4). Essentially it shows that the more adequate the factor the more confidence can be shown that the project will achieve its schedule target.

Figure 3: Adequacy of project documentation improving schedule confidence (Cooke-Davies, 2002)


What factors are critical to the success of an individual project? Cooke-

Davies (2002) suggests that there is a single factor; which leads to individual project success. He states that the existence of an effective benefits delivery and management process that involves the mutual co-operation of project management and line management functions (Table 2, Factor 9). Without this factor an individual project is likely to singularly fail. Essentially this factor requires a process to which the project outcome is delivered and managed. This factor further requires the cooperation of a project team with a single goal to achieve this project benefit outcome. 11.

What factors lead to consistently successful projects? Cooke-Davies (2002)

now moves away from the individual project and considers that corporate
functions that enable a project to succeed. Whilst this analysis was complex to derive from analysis it was found via extensive questionnaires three main factors corporate influenced the factors for project success. These three factors are identified at Table 2 (Factors 10-12) however directly relate to resourcing, feedback loops and learning from experience.


Resourcing (Table 2, Factor 10) being governed by corporate is essential to

project success, for if a project is not able to have the right people or assets at the right time a project is unlikely to succeed. If a project management corporation sets up the correct plans, processes and procedures to ensure that each one of its subsidiary projects are adequately resourced, Davies-Cooke (2002) envisages that it is set up for success. An example of this is the development of Standard Operating Procedures for purchase of support equipment in a large-scale acquisition project. The standardisation of this resource alignment by corporate enables the factors for success later in the project.


Feedback loops (Table 2, Factor 11) are essential to a line manager knowing if

what they are doing is appropriate and in line with the project manager and the stakeholder’s perceptions of what the project needs to succeed. Whilst it is acknowledged that if a feedback loop is too short it will tend to misguide a line manager rather than improve the chances of success. This is the job of the project manger to ensure that the loop is correct for the particular project, for example a long lead time project is suited to a larger feedback loop whereas a rapid prototype project

needs to have potentially daily feedback to key line managers to ensure the project is going in the right direction given the potentially fast innovations in technology. Cooke-Davies (2002) finally proposes the success factor of learning from experience (Table 2, Factor 12). Corporations should in order to succeed implement plans, programmes, and procedures to ensure that the lessons learnt from previous projects are not re-learnt the hard way.

Constantly (Pinto, 1990) (Robertson, 2006) (Baker, 1988) (Atkinson, 1999) when project scholars analyse how a project has performed it is recognised that a lot of issues that cause failure are not ground breaking rather they are just repeated with a delay loop. Thus project management corporations should endeavour to ensure that as a project is finding solutions to problems they are documented to ensure that in the next project they are not realised again. 14.

These three questions relate directly back to a vicious ‘oval’ of influences as

depicted by Cooke-Davies (2002) of four key elements (Figure 4). These influences from a project management, individual project and corporate area all play out to enable success of a project.

Figure 4: Corporate Project Success Model (Cooke-Davies, 2002)










Factor Type
Success Factor
Success Factor
Success Factor
Success Factor
Success Factor
Success Factor
Success Factor
Success Factor
Project Success


success factors


success factors


success factors

Adequacy of company-wide education on
the concepts of risk management.

Factor that correlates to on
time performance

Maturity of an organisation’s processes
for assigning ownership of risks.

Factor that correlates to on
time performance

Adequacy with which a visible risks
register is maintained.

Factor that correlates to on
time performance

Adequacy of an up-to-date risk
management plan.

Factor that correlates to on
time performance

Adequacy of documentation of
organisational responsibilities on the
Keep project (or project stage duration) as
far below 3 years as possible (1 year is
Allow changes to scope only through a
mature scope change control process.

Factor that correlates to on
time performance

Maintain the integrity of the performance
measurement baseline.

Factor that correlates to on
budget performance

Factor that correlates to on
time performance
Factor that correlates to on
budget performance

The existence of an effective benefits
delivery and management process that
involves the mutual co-operation of
project management and line
management functions”
Portfolio and programme management
practices that allow the enterprise to
resource fully a suite of projects that are
thoughtfully and dynamically matched to
the corporate strategy and business
A suite of project, programme and
portfolio metrics that provides direct
‘‘line of sight’’ feedback on current
project performance, and anticipated
future success, so that project, portfolio
and corporate decisions can be aligned.
An effective means of ‘‘learning from
experience’’ on projects, that combines
explicit knowledge with tacit knowledge
in a way that encourages people to learn
and to embed that learning into
continuous improvement of project
management processes and practices.

Table 2: Success Factors (Cooke-Davies, 2002)


This essay has discussed the ways to manage success of a project via two means

being how it is judged and the factors that contribute to its success. The success criteria have been shown to be wide and varied however they ultimately boil down to the Iron triangle, the information system, organisational benefits, stakeholder community benefits. Furthermore the factors that lead to this success are multiple however they are mostly governed on the project mangers competence to ensure that the project is maintained within the triangle of time, cost and scope.


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Project success: success factor and success criteria. (2016, May 14). Retrieved from

Project success: success factor and success criteria
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