Critical Project Success Factors: planning, risk management, and top management support

Shenhar (2001) stated because the theory of project management is still in its infancy, the common conclusion by numerous authors, suggests projects are basically same “one­-size-­fits-­all.” And this causes firms, to bid for projects with the intent of completing them for profit, and this is not the case. Ghosh et al. (2012) mentioned, only a total of 23% of projects that are initiated are completed, especially in the Information System and Information Technology (IS/IT) sectors. The massive failure is attributed to multiple factors, which includes incompetency of project owners, insufficient resources, as Wang and Li (2009) stated. The lack of proper system criteria, which organizations used to determine to “bid/no-­bid” i.e., which project that needs to be brought into the company. As it is widely seen that most groups, usually bid for every project, without the index system to determine if the project is right for the organization. The failure to have this system in place causes companies to win bids, without having the right resources to execute the project, which will, in turn, tarnish the reputation of the company, because they will be unable to deliver. More so, in an instance where the resources are available, all projects cannot be executed at the same time. This is another aspect that organizations do not take into consideration when making commitments to their clients. This will, in turn, lead to unsatisfied internal and external stakeholders. For external stakeholders, the project’s deadline will be moved several times. For internal stakeholders, they are forced to work overtime, which reduces the job satisfaction of employees. For example, if multiple IT projects are won, this results in a significant project ‘portfolio.’ The clients will request a delivery date around the same time, and for the benefits of making more money or losing the customer to competitors. Firms are forced to make commitments, which realistically is unattainable. For the mentioned reasons, one will need to select, plan and execute projects strategically. After all, a strategy is written for an organization to perform better, why not employ a similar methodology in ensuring that projects are successful.

The mentioned starts by identifying three critical success factors for a project, and beginning with ‘effective planning.’ This is the ‘Plan’ referred here and termed as ‘project strategy,’ as Patanakul and Shenhar (2012) mentioned. This is not the same as the traditional project management theories, which focuse on planning the development of techniques, procedures, and tools that are said to guarantee project success. One can see projects, which followed the traditional approach carefully, still, produce a disappointing outcome as Williams (2005) recorded. And that said, it is easy to incorporate strategy into the field of project management for one will be building on the traditional model that Shenhar, Levy, and Dvir, (1997) mentioned guarantees the success of a project. The ‘planning’ using project strategy, mainly focuses on how to win. This is seen as the perspective (P), position (P), and guideline (G) i.e. perspective=why? position=what? And guideline=how? A project can be implemented, offering the best competitive advantage and value. The mentioned could be termed as porters five forces, for project management because of the relation of competitive advantage and value. The PPG should be used at every stage of a traditional project management, which includes selecting projects from a portfolio based on priority and availability of the resource for each project. More so, the initialization phase, because at this phase one could question the why, what, and how, which will help determine the actual strategy that will guarantee a project’s success (Patanakul and Shenhar, 2012).

However, as establishing the above, the vast majority of projects fail, as another critical success factors of a project is risk management. Turner and Müller (2003) raised three features of a project and how they create three ‘pressures’ on projects. The pressures are said to be the uncertainties; no one is confident of the outcome or the beneficial changes a project may require. i.e. a project is a living being, it grows, gets sick and may die. More so, the pressures demand integration of the resources that are involved in the project, amidst multiple parts in a project, and into the business. Also, it urges the project to be subjected to urgency, i.e. attain the outcomes within the intended timeline. The mentioned project pressures show the associated risk, but not limited to the stated above. Then the project manager, who in principle, should be able to manage the risk that is created by the three pressures associated with projects effectively. However, Turner and Müller (2003) affirm that for this to be possible, the project manager should be seen as a temporary CFO of a temporary organization. This does not become possible, without the buy­in of top management support, and classified as the third critical success factor for a project. The lack of top management support will usually put projects in danger. Since management is generally focused on the internal organizational goals, which are aligned to make profit. And in some instances, Moe (1995) recorded that a project is allocated to stakeholders, based on political favours and not competency. The structure of choice, for project managers, should not be bureaucratic. However, project managers should be assigned to projects based on core competencies and will not be possible without the support of top management. In conclusion, the role of a competent project manager is to ensure the three critical success factors of a project are implemented (Meredith and Mantel, 2014).

Further Reading:

Ghosh et al. (2012) ‘Enhance PMBOK® by comparing it with P2M, ICB, PRINCE2, APM and Scrum Project Management Standards‘, PM World Today, 14 (1), pp. 1­77. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 8, 2016]

Moe TM, (1995). The politics of structural choice: towards a theory of public bureaucracy. In: Williamson OE, editor. Organization theory: from Chester Barnard to the present and beyond, expanded edition. New York: Oxford University Press;. p. 116–53

Meredith, J.R. & Mantel, S.J. (2014) Project management – a managerial approach. 9th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Patanakul, P. & Shenhar, A.J. (2012) ‘What project strategy really is: the fundamental building block in strategic project management’, Project Management Journal, (43) 1, pp. 4­ 20. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]

Shenhar, A.J. (2001) ‘One size does not fit all projects: exploring classical contingency domains’, Management Science 47 (3), pp. 394­414. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]

Shenhar, A.J. (2001) ‘One size does not fit all projects: exploring classical contingency domains’, Management Science 47 (3), pp. 394­414. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]

Shenhar, A. J., Levy, O., & Dvir, D. (1997). Mapping the dimension of project success. Project Management Journal, 28(2), 5–13. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]

Turner, J. R. & Müller, R. (2003) ‘On the nature of the project as a temporary organization’, International Journal of Project Management, 21(1), pp. 1­8. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]

Williams, T. (2005). Assessing and moving on from the dominant project management discourse in the light of project overruns. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 52(4), 497–508. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]

Wang, J., Xu, Y. & Li, Z. (2009) ‘Research on project selection system of pre­evaluation of engineering design project bidding’. International Journal of Project Management, 27 (6), pp. 584­599. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: January 15, 2016]