Five Factors ensuring project success


Prepared by: Majed Abdeen

The priority of the success factors for projects - in general – differs, based on the industry, type, and size of the project. For instance, the uncertainty level in software projects is higher than in engineering projects, thus, the upper-management support factor has the greatest influence on software projects (Zwikael, 2008, p. 498). Another important factor for software project success is a clear mission including clarity of project purpose, goals and general direction. This factor is challenging for the software industry, as due to the nature of the work, it is much harder to define than in other industries. This is due to the rapid pace of software development. Thus, having a clear mission is a critical success factor, particularly for software projects.


Project Critical Success Factors (CSFs) contribute to ensuring successful outcomes (PMI, 2016, p. 109). As IS/IT evolves, technology is less of a concern in project success: other CSFs are more influential. Scholars identify factors delivering success, agreeing on certain key factors, including Top-Management Support, Communication, Mission, Governance, and Technical Project Management (Meredith et al., 2015, p. 547; Patanakul, 2014, p. 27; Ofori, 2013, p. 14). However, others consider stakeholders perspectives of success (Turner & Zolin, 2012, pp. 1,13) or industry, project type, and the firm (Meredith et al., 2015, p. 547) as CSFs. As project managers we must be aware that CSFs are likely to differ based on the project. For software development projects, skilled personnel are a CSF, while on a project using virtual teams, communication and collaboration are CSFs.

Five CSFs

I believe that the following CSFs, prioritized in order of importance, lead to project success. The absence of any of these can result in project failure:

  • Top-Management Support

According to Pinto et al. (1987) cited by (Meredith et al., 2015, p. 547), this is the second most important CSF, while (Ofori, 2013, p. 14) views it as a top CSF; I agree with the latter: many projects fail from lack of Top-Management Support. A large budget, resources, and time flexibility are insufficient when there is a lack of governance at the senior executive level. This leads to lack of oversight, Cost/Schedule problems, and missed opportunities for early risk identification (Patanakul, 2014, p. 27). I have encountered this issue in large organisations, or larger projects. One particular challenge I faced was when a critical decision needed to be made, but top-management avoided doing so, waiting until the problem happened, ultimately negatively impacted the project.

  • Clear Mission

This means clarity of project purpose, goals and general direction (Meredith et al., 2015, p. 547), (Ofori, 2013, p. 14). Projects do not operate independently, thus all participants need to have a clear idea as to what the project is intended to achieve. Use of projects allows maximum return on investment for organisations, delivering maximum benefits and is mandatory for the organisational strategy and goals. I have experience of working on a project in which the goals of the project were not clearly defined, rather, the goal changed every month, which increased the risks to delivering the project successfully.

  • Sustainability & Ethics

Project manages need to act as leaders and managers for their projects, but they also have a responsibility to model and define ethical behaviour (Lee, 2009, pp. 456, 462). This will ensure organisational stability, project stability, and will also support employee satisfaction and ensure that the project is delivered efficiently (Lee, 2009, p. 462). Throughout my experience in the labour market, I've had to deal with many ethical challenges and unethical requests, for instance, client staff lying or requesting bribes during project delivery, which caused negative impacts on the duration and increased the project costs.

  • Leadership

Leadership is also an important CSF: the ability to inspire and demonstrate commitment, empower others, the ability to identify/address problems, and flexibility in leadership style based on the situation (PMI, 2014, p. 4). Selection criteria for Project managers includes possessing both appropriate experience and leadership skills (Müller & Turner, 2007, pp. 23, 31). Research demonstrates that when managers assign projects, they take into account the leadership skill of the project manager; this is especially important on highly complex projects which require a variety of leadership skills (Müller & Turner, 2007, pp. 23, 31). Having had experience of working under leaders who did not possess the required skills and abilities, I see leadership as a CSF, since I have worked on projects in which the poor leadership skills of the management led many people to resign; the loss of qualified staff impacted not only the project's success but also the company's reputation.

  • Project Management Competency

Naturally, this is the indisputable core of any successful project: the project manager must have project management competencies to understand how the project out to be undertaken. They need the ability and understanding to plan, organize, monitor and control the project, motivating their team, while ensuring that the project is delivered on time, within quality and cost (Ofori, 2013, p. 16). Research in the IT/IS sector indicates projects fail due to factors related to the planning process, such as not involving users, or poor communication during Plan development, as well as underestimating the scope and/or complexity (Patanakul, 2014, p. 23). I have worked with project managers who lacked knowledge and understanding of project management; a particular problem I encountered is that for project managers who lack Project Management competency, the scope is always open; inability to control the project scope means that the project can never be delivered.


Lee, M. R., 2009. E-ethical leadership for virtual project teams. International Journal of Project Management, 27(1), p. 456–463.

Meredith, J. R., Samuel J. Mantel, J. & Shafer, S. M., 2015. Project Management: A Managerial Approach. 9th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Müller, R. & Turner, J. R., 2007. Matching the project manager’s leadership style to project type. International Journal of Project Management, 25(1), p. 21–32.

Ofori, D. F., 2013. Project Management Practices and Critical Success Factors–A Developing Country Perspective. International Journal of Business and Management, 15 October, 21(8), p. 14–31.

Patanakul, P., 2014. Managing large-scale IS/IT projects in the public sector: Problems and causes leading to poor performance. Journal of High Technology Management Research, 25(1), p. 21–35.

PMI, 2014. Navigating Complexity: A PRACTICE GUIDE. Newtown Square(Pennsylvania): Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2016. Governance of portfolios, programs, and projects : a practice guide. 1st ed. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Turner, J. R. & Zolin, R., 2012. Forecasting success on large projects: developing reliable scales to predict multiple perspectives by multiple stakeholders over multiple time frames. Project Management Journal, 43(5), p. 87–99.

Zwikael, O., 2008. Top management involvement in project management. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 1(4), pp. 498-511.