Project Management Success Factors

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Developed by Jonina Thora Einarsdottir



In the theory of a project, there are two main success concepts: project success and project management success. The project management success does indeed contribute massively to a project but does however not guarantee by itself a successful project.[1] Project management success may be defined as an “achievement of convergence about common understanding of the set of project objectives”.[2] Defining the exact success in these studies can be hard and therefore it is relevant to define project management success factors in order to have tools to use in these studies. Critical success factors in project management are defined as levers that a project manager can employ in order to increase the odds of a project becoming successful.[3] Several authors have proposed project management success factors throughout time. These factors are based on experience contained from thousands of different projects all over the world. Therefore, these studies are always evolving. However, the overall goal from all these authors consists of making project management successful. Several methods and recommendations regarding successful management of projects have been developed throughout time. It is indeed a complex theme, but the benefits gained in a project from the activities of project management are however undeniable. The development of project management methods in present time is certainly very fast but probably the most widely used method is the PRINCE2 method towards managing successful projects with successful project management.[4] This article will discuss the theory of project management success factors and how it has evolved throughout time from different authors. It will also discuss present methods on how implementing the success factors of project management will increase the odds of a successful overall project.

Big Idea

Project management success may be defined as an “achievement of convergence about common understanding of the set of project objectives”.[2] As for the definition of “project success”, it is a difficult thing to define. Some authors even presume that readers know what is meant by a “project success” and “project failure”. According to Ika[3], the only certain thing in project management is that “success is an ambiguous, inclusive and multidimensional concept” and the definition of it relies on the context in each project. The success of a project can also be described with words such as efficiency and effectiveness.[3]

The success of a project is related to time, cost and quality performance but the time/cost/quality triangle is better known as the “iron triangle” or the “golden triangle”.[3] However, many projects have been delivered within time, cost and quality constraints but are still considered as a failure. At the same time other projects have exceeded the triangle constraints but are still considered as successful projects.[5] Therefore, there is a difference between a successful project and project management success. Most authors agree that a success in a project may be achieved through successful project management.

Project management is focused on project performance regarding short-term dimensions of project success in which the “iron triangle” is indeed one of the aspects. However, a project manager is not only responsible for time, cost and quality management but also integration, scope, human resource, communication, risk and procurement management. The role of a project manager is designed in a way in which fits the organization in the same way that the project management processes are designed to fit the project at each time. This role may vary depending on the type of organization and type of project.[6] The success of project management can thus be evaluated through measurements of time, cost and quality but also scope, resource and activity as well as through models of measuring success like PMPA – Project Management Performance Assessment.[7]

Critical success factors in project management are defined as levers that a project manager can employ in order to increase the odds of a project becoming successful.[3] Several authors have proposed project management success factors throughout time.

Slevin and Pinto[5] proposed ten key success factors: project mission, top management support, project schedules/plan, client consultation, personnel, technical tasks, client acceptance, monitoring and feedback, troubleshooting, and communication. These factors are managed by the project team respectfully. They then added four additional factors to the list which would not fall into the hands of the project’s team: characteristics of the project team leader, power and politics, environmental events, and urgency.

Radujković and Sjekavica[1] presented a list of project management parts which contribute both to project management success as well as to the overall success of a project. Those parts are stated to be the project management success factors. They are divided into three categories depending on where their focus lies:

Project management success factors.[1]
1. Elements of project management competence
Total competencies of Project manager
Project managers’ emotional intelligence, soft project manager elements
Project Manager’s management style
Project team members
Application of project management knowledge and skills from project manager and project team, as well as their coordination
2. Elements of organization
Organizational structure
Organizational culture
3. Elements of project management methodologies, methods, tools and techniques
Project management tools and technique
Project management standards
Planning and monitoring software, Request analysis, lessons learned, statement on the scope of project, CPM, CBA, Risk management and contract management.

The first category consists of technical, behavioural and contextual competencies. The second one has everything to do with the organization, such as organizational structure, organizational culture, organizational atmosphere and organizational competence. The third category consists of six parts: project management methodologies, project management software, project management tools, decision-making techniques, risk assessment tools and information communication technology support tools. The big idea according to Radujković and Sjekavica[1] is that “if you have a competent project manager as well as a competent team, coordinated manager and team, adequate organizational structure, culture, atmosphere and competence, as well as high usage of project management methodologies, methods, tools and techniques, your project should have highly successful project management, and enable project success”. One must keep in mind that the importance of these success factors varies depending on the project type that the project management team is dealing with at each time. This may concern whether a project is a public or a private project and what the project’s orientation is as well as the number of projects being managed in organization.

Project management success factors breakdown.[1]


Success-oriented project management can be analysed from two perspectives. The first one is an internal perspective and deals with tools retrieved from the profession of project management in general. The second one deals with the challenges in which the project owner imposes to the project management. A success-oriented project management has to be based on several things such as:

  • Requirements specified by the project owner concerning the success of the project.
  • Regulations and standards which comply to the type and location of a project at each time.
  • Competences of the project management in which comply with the success criteria.
  • Satisfied stakeholders and project owner who pin-point their goals and interests throughout the process.
  • Documentation of all project management activities.
  • Constant monitoring of the project as well as good control of risks and any type of changes or constraints.


The value of project management

How to measure the value of project management can be a challenging task and through time three ways have been used to measure the value of PM: a maturity-based Return on Investment (ROI) metric, a Balance Scorecard-ROI, and a resource-based view.

The Maturity-Based Metric:

  • Focus is on determining the level of maturity in the organization and establishing a connection between the PM maturity and variations in cost and time from the original baselines. Companies with high level of maturity have shown better performance in projects as well the PM schedule and cost performance tend to be more predictable.

The Balanced Scorecard-ROI Metric:

  • Two approaches:
  1. Balanced scorecard - goals and measures in four perspectives: financial, internal business, innovation and learning, and customer. When all these are combined, the manager tends to improve his skills in decision making and problem solving.
  2. Balanced scorecard ROI metric – uses the same approach but more emphasis is on quantifying any value.

Resource-Based View Metric:

  • This takes into account the competencies within the organization and the impact they have on decisions regarding competitive advantages of the company.


Methods and techniques for successful project management

Several methods have been developed through time for managing projects. One of them and probably the most widely used is the PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) method. The method’s emphasis is on the importance of roles and responsibilities within the project as well as management by stages with a clear definition on tolerances on cost, time, quality, scope, risk and benefits.The method is based on experience contained from thousands of different projects all over the world, both good and bad experiences. The method can be applied to any project no matter the type, size, location etc.

PRINCE2 structure.[4]

The method’s structure is divided into four integrated elements:

  1. Principles which are the guiding obligations and good practices. There are 7 principles and all of them need to be applied in order for a project to be a certified PRINCE2 project.
  2. Themes which describe aspects of project managements and must be addressed throughout the project.
  3. Processes where the progression from the pre-project activity of getting started is described.
  4. Project environment in which is created in order for organizations to tailor PRINCE2 to create their own project management method.

The seven PRINCE2 principles are:

  • Continued business justification – there needs to be a valid reason for starting the project in the beginning.
  • Learn from experience – takes place in the beginning of the project phase, in which teams should review similar previous projects, as the project progresses as well as when the project closes.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities – right people with right roles are more likely to lead a project to success.
  • Manage by stages – in which the project is broken into management stages.
  • Manage by exception – setting tolerances against six aspects of performance: cost, time, quality, scope, benefits and risk.
  • Focus on products – the quality requirements of products.
  • Tailor to suit the project – PRINCE2 takes into account that projects may vary from type to type regarding size, complexity, importance, team, capability and risk.


Projects will always be exposed by risks, constraints and changes and if it weren’t for these three factors, project management would overall be so much simpler in many ways. Therefore, an important thing in order to perform successful project management is a continuous management of project-related risks, changes and constraints. Thus, it is recommended for a project manager and his/her team to have a work plan in which they document all activities that have been done and need to be done. This plan is called “the project management document” or the “project management concept paper”. The document is to be prepared prior to the beginning of each project and is updated throughout the whole project when each individual task has been performed. Radujković and Sjekavica[8] recommend the following structure of this specific document:

  1. General information about the project
  2. Business case
  3. Brief description of the project objectives. What are the needs or wishes of the project owner? Which problems are likely to arise and need to be solved?
  4. Goal and scope of the project including project deliverables.
  5. Clear hierarchy of components forming the deliverables (WBS).
  6. Individual competencies, roles and responsibilities (OBS) of each project management team member.
  7. Organisational structure, roles and responsibilities as well as decision-making of the project.
  8. Stakeholder management plan, project participants.
  9. Time-schedule with main milestones defined.
  10. Cost plan and cash flow of the project.
  11. Procurement plan including engagement of suppliers and contractors.
  12. Risk management plan and analysis of key project risks.
  13. Administration and approval of changes in the project.
  14. Analysis of constraints that might delay the project.
  15. Project management tools to be applied in the project.
  16. Define international standards when relevant in each project.
  17. Discuss similar projects in which can be used as a role-model identifying best practice examples.
  18. Methods for monitoring and controlling the realization of the project.
  19. Clear communication methods. How to solve conflicts if needed?
  20. Use of technological tools in the project management.
  21. Procedures of project, starting phase to closure.
  22. Project administering and documenting procedures.
  23. Other, as needed in each project as they vary from type to type.

Now, with all of the above in mind, one would most likely achieve project management success and through successful project management, project success is more likely to occur. When a project manager has a clear vision on what kind of a project he/she is dealing with, he/she can prepare the project management concept paper with the success factors, listed in the table above, in mind. Regarding the management process, one can implement the PRINCE2 method as certified PRINCE2 projects tend to be successful because of successful project management procedures.


As mentioned earlier, it can be hard to define a firm definition on project success as well as project management success. This is because the success criteria and critical success factors (CSFs) can differ so much from one project to the next one due to a different scope, the uniqueness as well as the overall complexity.[10]

Even if project management (PM) has been thoroughly developed for the past years, weak PM tasks keep coming up, particularly with the project owner organizations. This may be led to two contributing factors:

  1. Project organizations are not familiar with how their PM practices are in comparison with the best practices.
  2. Project organizations are not aware and unconvinced of how much benefit they can gain with various PM practices.


Project management successfulness is a complex theme, but the benefits gained from the activities of project management are however undeniable.

Annotated bibliography

AXELOS A. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition: The book presents a widely used method on how to manage successful projects. It is based on experience contained from thousands of different projects and therefore it is a thorough and clear guidance for successful project management. The method’s structure is divided into four integrated elements and therefore it provides deeper insight into the important stages of project management and most likely, if project managers follow the instructions completely, a project will succeed. The method can be applied to any project no matter the type, size, location etc. which gives it even more value. In this article, a general introduction of the method is presented with the four integrated elements to make it clear for the reader how to implement the method in order to reach success in projects.

A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition): This book consists of nine knowledge areas and five process groups and therefore covers various aspects of project management in general. The book is a clear guide on how to use tools in project management and defines very clearly the role of a project manager, thus should lead to a very professional and successful project management. In this article, the book was mainly used to understand the role of a project manager in order to know his/hers actions to take towards successful project management.

Radujković, M., Sjekavica, M. (2017). Development of a project management performance enhancement model by analysing risks, changes, and limitations: This paper is a thorough analysis of the development of the whole process of project management. It provides clear definition on project management success factors along with detailed explanation on each factor. The paper also presents a tool for the project managers on how to organize their “project management document” or how to plan their projects step by step in which is more likely to lead to successful project management.

Sanjuan A, Froese T. (2013). The Application of Project Management Standards and Success Factors to the Development of a Project Management Assessment Tool: This paper provides a detailed analysis of several project management standards and then compares them and identifies their different focus points. Project management success factors are also presented briefly. The primary focus is on how the PM standards and success factors are used in the development of the PM assessment tool. The paper also provides information on how the value of project management is measured in order for the reader to understand when project management is considered successful.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Radujković M, Sjekavica M. Project Management Success Factors. Procedia Engineering. 2017;196:607-615.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Alderman N, Ivory C. Translation and Convergence in Projects: An Organizational Perspective on Project Success. Project Management Journal. 2011;42(5):17-30.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Ika L. Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals. Project Management Journal. 2009;40(4):6-19.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 AXELOS A. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition. London: The Stationery Office Ltd; 2017.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Pinto, J. K., Slevin, D. P. Critical success factors across the project life cycle: definitions and measurement techniques. Project Management Journal, 1988; 19(3), 67–75.
  6. A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition). Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, USA: Project Management Institute (PMI); 2017.
  7. Kerzner H. Project management metrics, KPIs, and dashboards: a guide to measuring and monitoring project performance. New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons; 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Radujković, M., Sjekavica, M. Development of a project management performance enhancement model by analysing risks, changes, and limitations. Journal of the Croatian Association of Civil Engineers. 2017;69(02):105-120.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Sanjuan A, Froese T. The Application of Project Management Standards and Success Factors to the Development of a Project Management Assessment Tool. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2013;74:91-100.
  10. Wateridge J. IT projects: a basis for success. International Journal of Project Management. 1995;13(3):169-172.
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