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The real success factors on projects

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INTRODUCTION

     In this paper, I will discuss Terry Cooke-Davies article on ‘The “real” success factors on projects'(Cooke-Davies,2002). In his article, Cooke-Davies identifies 12 factors critical in ensuring the successful projects. Cooke-Davies starts by differentiating between successful projects, successful project management, and consistently successful projects. In addition, he argued on the existence of a relationship between project management and operations management and then proposed how successful projects aligns with corporate success. Furthermore, he concludes by asserting the role people have to play in successfully delivering projects. After summarizing Cooke-Davies article, I will agree with the results of his research in identifying the 12 factors critical for project success and on the linkage between project management and operations management; but I will disagree with the research methodology especially with respect to the small sample size, and the extrapolation of this data to apply to worldwide projects. I will also argue that the writer did not expatiate on the critical role people in delivering projects. I will conclude by reappraising the role of this article in bridging our current gap in knowledge on factors relevant for project success.

MAIN REVIEW

     According to Terry Cooke-Davies in Sections 1 and 2 of this article, the reasons for project failure can be adduced to be the inadequate knowledge on the critical factors that lead to successful projects. Cooke-Davies argument is that prior to this research, the information available on the factors that lead to project success answered one question only which is “what factors determine a successful project?”. He asserted that in order to manage projects successfully, we need to answer three questions i.e. “what factors are critical to project management success?”, “what factors are critical to individual project success?”, “what factors lead to consistently successful projects?”. I will argue a similar view to that of Terry-Cooke here. It has been acknowledged that for projects to succeed, certain specific critical factors must be met. Researchers have acknowledged the critical role of specific factors to a projects success or failure and they also proposed that the reasons projects fail is as a result of an inability to thoroughly identify those specific factors critical to project success. The question then is What is a successful project?, What factors define a successful project?; I would suggest that the definition of a successful project will vary due to the fact that the different project stakeholders have individual interpretations of what makes project success. Along the lines of Cooke-Davies, I am arguing for a structured approach to identifying factors relevant to project success by grouping this factors into categories based on those critical for project management success, individual successful projects and consistently successful projects.

     Section 3 focuses on the factors critical for project management success and the research methodology used in deriving the identified factors. Cooke-Davies starts by analyzing the cost and schedule performance data of 136 projects executed in Europe in the mid to late 1990's by 23 companies. From Cooke-Davies point of view, there is a correlation between the projects that where not completed on schedule and their budget overrun. The upshot of Cooke-Davies argument is that there are eight specific factors that contribute to the ability/ inability of a project to meet schedule and budget targets. He suggested that of these eight factors, six factors pertain specifically to improvement in schedule performance while two factors pertain specifically to improvement in budget performance. Cooke-Davies data leads him to the conclusion in this section that the overall strength of implementation of these identified eight factors on a project leads to an overall improvement in the cost and schedule fundamentals of the project. I agree with Cooke-Davies in so far as the data analysis and results are concerned. The expert use of statistical tools e.g. Confidence Interval(CI), and a P value of 0.0005 helps to highlight the overwhelming statistical significance between budget and schedule fundamentals. The important and valid point Cooke-Davies suggests in this section is the relationship between budget overrun and schedule delay for a project. My disagreement with Cooke-Davies pertains to the extrapolation of this data to projects worldwide. Cooke-Davies depends on the assumption that the data derived from the sample size of 136 projects executed mainly in Europe can be extended to apply to projects worldwide. He fails to acknowledge the key role environmental factors in certain regions of the world e.g. Africa play in determining project management success. I also wish to highlight the non-inclusion of any projects been managed in Africa as a part of the resource pool of this research. This vital omission raises a pertinent question which is; Can we really extrapolate the findings of this research to apply worldwide when we have ignored data from a one continent?; the argument I am proposing for this section is that this data only pertains to projects been managed in the regions of the world where the data is derived from and cannot be extended to include those regions that are not a part of the resource pool.

     Cooke-Davies starts section 4 by asserting the existence of a gap between the traditional goals of project success(cost, quality, time) and the non-traditional goals such as the relevance of the project deliverable to the stakeholders. In a bid to bridge this identified gap, he argues for the use of a technique such as benefits management to help the stakeholders derive the full value from the project deliverable. Furthermore, he clarifies the distinction between the role of the project management team in delivering the project deliverable and the role of the functional management team in using the project deliverable to bring the stakeholder expectations to reality; he then proposes that the latter step is much more difficult than the former. He concludes this section by arguing that a good working relationship between the project management team and the functional management team is a critical factor in ensuring project success. The argument I wish to put forward here is completely in agreement with Cooke-Davies on the key concept of benefits delivery. In the past, project managers have focussed solely on delivering projects on time, budget, and at the right quality without an equal emphasis on how the project deliverable will meet the expectations of the stakeholders. In this light, I share the view of Cooke-Davies which is that a project cannot be successful unless the expectations of the stakeholders are met. Hence it is essential for the benefits management methodology to be used in translating the project deliverables to stakeholder reality.

     In section 5, Cooke-Davies proposes how to achieve consistently successful projects. He argues on how consistently successful projects aligns with corporate success and he proposes three factors that are critical in ensuring consistently successful projects in an organization. Cooke-Davies's main argument in this section is the existence of a viscous cycle between projects that are consistently successful and improved corporate performance; his conclusion seems to be that organizations that deploy project management processes as part of their corporate culture tend to have a much more improved corporate performance. Along the lines of Cooke-Davies, I am arguing that the use of management techniques such as management by projects(MBP) in which all organizational goals are defined as projects greatly helps in ensuring consistently successful projects, and if these projects are managed in a coordinated way in line with organizational goals, it will invariably lead to improved organizational performance. My point of view is that the inculcation of a projectized organizational structure helps in the achievement of consistently successful projects. The corporate strategy of a projectized organizational structure is a focus towards ensuring that all organizational goals are managed like projects.

     In section six, Cooke-Davies uses different project industries to argue on the existence of a relationship between successful projects and corporate success. He argues on how a successful/unsuccessful project can impact directly or indirectly on a corporate bottom-line. He concludes by proposing that the sustainability of a corporate organization depends largely on its bottom-line. Following from Cooke-Davies valid point, I am proposing a synergy between project management and value management in order to ensure long-term corporate success. This view has long been corroborated by researchers on the translation of project success to corporate success. The bottom-line is that effectively defining what the contribution of a project is to an organization is critical in the translation of the project deliverable to organizational benefits. This whole cycle of project and value management is iterative throughout the lifecycle of the project.

     Section 7 of Cooke-Davies's work focuses on the people aspect of project management. He acknowledges the role people have to play in project success, and then he argues that the human factors of project management cannot be singled out as a single factor of its own but is embedded in each of the identified twelve success factors. Furthermore, he concludes that the goals of the research is on how project teams achieve results and not on what motivates the project team to achieve results. Inasmuch as I agree with Cooke-Davies valid point on the critical role of the people in successful projects, it is indeed a “strange omission” that he left out the human aspects of projects till the end of his article. I would like to espouse the fact that in order to achieve project success, specific human resources strategies need to be in place. Cooke-Davies view is based on the assumption that the people are somehow integrated into the process of attaining project success; but he did not explicitly define the critical role people play in attainment of project success. In contrast to Cooke-Davies view, I wish to propose that the human factor in project success is so important that it has to be singled out as an independent factor of its own. I argue that it cannot be embedded into the twelve identified success factors because of a tendency for it to be overlooked by an independent reviewer. The relegation of the human aspects of projects to the last section of this article seems to reveal a bias of the writer for the process aspects of project success with little emphasis on the critical role of people in ensuring the success of the process.

CONCLUSION

     Cooke-Davies article helps greatly in shedding more light on the factors relevant for project success by highlighting three perspectives of what makes a successful project. He identified eight factors relevant for project management success, one factor relevant for project success, and three factors relevant to achieving consistently successful projects. Furthermore, he argued on the relationship between project success and corporate success; and then he shows how successful projects directly or indirectly impact on different project industries. He then concluded by proposing that the role people play in projects is embedded into each of the identified twelve factors. Inasmuch as I share Cooke-Davies view on the factors relevant to project success as well as the relationship between projects and corporate bottom-line; I wish to differ on the extrapolation of this research findings to regions of the world that are not represented in the research pool of data. I wish to also highlight the fact that even when viewed from the perspective of the regions where the research samples where derived from, the sample size is so small for it to be fully indicative of the factors that could affect project success in those regions. I would also like to argue that people are so critical in projects that the human factor of project success should occur as an independent factor. Inasmuch as the article represents an excellent effort by Cooke-Davies to fill possible gaps in our understanding of what makes a successful project; more work still needs to be done using a larger sample size which should be a true representative of all the regions of the world.

ASSIGNMENT APPENDIX

CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS FOR PROJECTS

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHIES

Cooke-Davies, T(2002) ‘The “real” success factors on projects'. International journal of project management, Vol.20, pp.185-190.

In this article, the author drawing extensively from his PhD dissertation and statistical data obtained from a survey of 136 European projects argued that there are 12 factors essential for project success. The author starts by asserting that the reason why this factors have not been properly identified before now is because of the inability to accurately define what project success means; furthermore, the author proposed a three pronged definition of project success. In subsequent sections, the author highlights the specific factors responsible for the success of each of the three different perspectives of project success. The author concludes by acknowledging ‘albeit belatedly' that the people aspects of project success is embedded within each of the aforementioned factors. This work is a commendable attempt to compartmentalize the factors responsible for project success into three different perspectives. My point of difference from this work is in terms of the small sample from which the authors' data is derived from. In addition, I argue that leaving the people aspects of project success to the last section may seem to reveal a bias by the author for process-focused project management rather than people-focused project management.

Dvir, D. Lipovetsky, S. Shenhar, A. Tishler, A.(1998) ‘In search of project classification: a non-universal approach to project success factors'. Research policy, Vol.27, pp.915-935.

In this article, the authors draw their data from Israeli defence projects completed in the 1980's to propose an objective classification of project types and also the specific factors that may affect the success of projects. The authors proposed the use of the multivariate analytical technique to compare the impact of specific variables derived from a particular data set on other variables in other to arrive at the possible effects of identified potential factors on the success of projects. The authors argument is that the use of the multivariate technique produced results that shows how a wide range of factors affect project success. Furthermore, the authors argued that there is no universality in the factors that affect project success hence project managers must define the factors that relate to their particular projects. The authors assert in their conclusion that the use of the multivariate analytical technique allows for the results of this research to be extrapolated to other projects. My argument is that the authors in their conclusion seem to contradict themselves because they initially argued that success factors are project specific but then conclude by proposing the usefulness of their work for all projects. Inasmuch as I agree with the objectiveness of the multivariate technique used here, I wish to disagree with the assumption of the authors in extrapolating their findings to other projects.

Soja, P(2006) ‘Success factors in ERP systems implementations: Lessons from practise'. Journal of Enterprise information management, Vol.19, Nos.4, pp.418-433

In this article, the author drawing extensively from data derived from respondents involved in ERP systems and his own experience in the business world argues that there are certain factors that determine the success of ERP systems. The authors' methodology involved the initial identification of potential factors that could affect the outcome of ERP projects. Furthermore, the aforementioned factors where then subjected to a survey among practitioners of ERP systems to determine the relative importance of each factor and the role of each factor in determining project outcome. The results was then statistically analyzed to determine the most important factors that could determine the success of ERP projects. The authors' conclusion seems to be that the importance of the identified success factors vary depending on the type of project and its duration. Soja's argument has merit and the conclusion sheds more light on the ‘foggy' area of the factors that could lead to successful project outcomes. My argument against Soja is with respect to the subjective technique deployed to identify the initial potential factors. I propose that a much more objective potential factors can be arrived at from a survey of the respondents themselves rather than relying purely on the literature review. Furthermore, based on the small sample size used for this research, it will be hasty for us to extrapolate the conclusion arrived at to all ERP projects.

Segalla, M(1998) ‘Factors for the success or failure of international teams: The special case of international research projects'. Journal of Managerial psychology, Vol.13, Nos.3/4, pp.133-136.

The author of this article proposes that inability to identify specific project requirements determines the success or failure of international research projects. In addition, the author argues that the presence or absence of certain success factors play a role in defining how successful an international research project will be. The author identifies three requirements and four factors that need to be met before an international research project can be deemed to be successful. In his conclusion, the author asserts the vital role teams play in achieving project success with an emphasis on international research projects and recommends that the success bottom line for researchers is to “Go find a team”. Along the lines of Segalla, I am also suggesting that just like any other project, certain factors need to be in place to ensure the success of international research projects. Furthermore, identification and definition of the requirements of a project plays a key role in project success. I also agree with the author's assertion on the vital role teams play in achieving international research project success as compared to individual work by researchers.

Trent, J.R(2003) ‘Planning to use work teams effectively'. Team performance management: An international journal. Vol.9, Nos.3/4, pp.50-58.

In this article, the author, an associate professor of management, evaluates data derived from literature review, practical evidence derived from sampling, and his own personal experience, to argue that certain factors are essential for ensuring the success of teams. The author compartmentalizes the different stages of the team planning process and identifies various factors that are essential for the success of each stage. In his conclusion, the author seems to acknowledge that there is no factor that can be said to guarantee the success of a team; he proposes that the presence of these identified factors will only help in promoting the ability of a team to achieve success. This article reflects another attempt by an academic to identify the factors that could lead to successful teams and invariably successful projects. The pursuit of these success factors has been likened to that of the ‘Holy Grail', and this work represents an addition to the plethora of research done on ‘what makes project teams work?'. My main point of disagreement with this work rests on the conclusion of the author in which he seems to contradict himself by acknowledging that these factors do not guarantee successful teams. The question then is, what is the relevance of this work if its application does not guarantee successful teams? That answer to that question is ultimately left for the readers to decide.


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