Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

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By Linda Agyapong, PMP

I received a lot of interesting feedback on my last post, “What Defines Project Success,” which has necessitated a follow up.

For those who missed the discussion, Aaron Shenhar et al. summarized it perfectly by saying there is no one-size-fits-all definition for project success. Instead, it’s based on the philosophy of “how different dimensions mean different things to different stakeholders at different times and for different projects.”

Every project is different and hence could have different success criteria.  These were the exact same sentiments that folks shared in the discussion on my last post. This time we’ll dissect the concept of project success by breaking down some of the buzzwords surrounding it.

Project managers Jim, Mary and Alex (the same characters from our prior discussion), entered into a high profile kick-off meeting with some Fortune 500 clients regarding an upcoming million-dollar project. When the floor was opened for the clients to ask questions, they unanimously said that nearly 50 percent of the discussion went over their heads because all they could hear were buzzwords.

These buzzwords were “project success” vs. “project management success” and “project success factors” vs. “project success criteria.” The clients could not figure out if they meant the same or not. Let’s help Jim, Mary and Alex break down these buzzwords to their clients based on recent research I performed.

Project Success vs. Project Management Success

Terry Cooke-Davies embarked on an empirical study to identify the factors that are critical in obtaining successful projects after stakeholders had been disappointed with the project results that were being obtained. His study was to address the following three broad concerns:

·         The factors that make project management successful

·         The factors that make projects successful

·         The factors that make projects successful on a consistent basis

Although his three concerns may appear to be intertwined, Anton de Wit provided a distinction: Project success identifies factors that help to attain the overall objectives of the project, whereas project management success focuses on addressing some of the project’s constraints (including time, cost and quality) within the project.

Based on this understanding, Mr. Cooke-Davies concluded that there is a cycle of individual success (such as an individual’s leadership style), which leads to corporate success that later transforms into corporate best practices. As such, once these best practices are consistently applied, it could lead to making projects successful on a consistent basis.

Project Success Factors vs. Project Success Criteria

In their research, Ralf Müller and Kam Jugdev argued that project success factors identify the specific elements within the project “which, when influenced, increase the likelihood of success.” They added that these are the independent variables that enhance the success of the project. And Mr. de Wit described them as “those inputs to the management system that” directly or indirectly lead to the project’s success. (Can you name some specific examples?)

Conversely, Dr. Müller and Dr. Jugdev explained that project success criteria are the measures (or acceptance criteria) by which the final outcome of the project will be judged, i.e., whether the project is successful, challenged or a failure. They added that the project’s success is measured by these dependent variables. (Can you name some examples?)  

So there you have it! Are you enjoying this ride so far?

In my next post I’ll tie this concept of project success to the stakeholder. Until then, I’m interested to get your perspective on this topic.

Posted by Linda Agyapong on: August 01, 2017 08:34 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Very good, thans for sharing

I've definitely seen projects that were unsuccessful even when the project management was successful.

I don't remember a successful project where the project management was unsuccessful.

appreciable effort to define different project management terms...

Stephanie - I think that is where my initial post comes in, where we were all trying to define what constitutes a "successful project", to begin with.

So per your second sentence, it will depend on the criteria under which those projects were branded "not successful".

I guess my question is a bit more philosophical, Linda.

Given a known success criterion for project success and a known success criterion for projet management success, does project success imply project management success?

Interesting research and analysis

Interesting analysis. Thanks for sharing

insightful read, looking forward to the next article.

Good article, interesting if observed carefully that project success factors can change/evolve during project execution phase, the success criteria can't change.

Thank you!

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