Critical Success Factors


Many studies have identified Critical Success Factors, CSFs, a collection of factors associated with successful project outcomes (Belassi and Tukel, 1996)  (Jian, et al, ) (Sutterfield et al, ) (Hyvari, 2006) (Pinto and Slevin, 1987)(White and Fortune 2002)( Sadeh, Dvira and Shenhar, 2000). Examples of Critical Success Factors include:

 



Fast Track projects, however are different. Here is a list of ten critical success factors that need to be considered.

 

Business Goals Dominate not Methodology.

If market conditions and business goals determine that a project deserves fast-track status then it only seems logical for business goals to dominate the entire life cycle of the project. Of less importance … but still important … is whether Waterfall, Prince2 or Agile should be used because by themselves these methodologies may be unable to salvage a project that is delivered too late.

Business Goals are Clear and are Everyone’s Business.

Not only must business goals dominate but these goals need to be everyone’s business. Not just the business of the project manager, or the project sponsor, or steering committee, but everyone’s business from team members to suppliers, customers and end-users. Yet keeping business goals clearly in mind is not easy, especially as the project gets messy and the focus turns to solving complex problems.

Concurrent or Overlapped Activities.

In very competitive markets where time-to-market or time-to-implementation is critical it may be necessary to schedule activities in parallel rather in sequence.  Rather than follow a more logical precedent relationship, where activity B would be completed before activity C is begun, it might be useful to start both at the same time. For example under more normal circumstances it might be best to wait for product design to be completed before marketing plans are started, but in a fast-track environment it might be necessary to schedule them at the same time. In homebuilding, the roof cannot be started until framing is completed and framing cannot be started until the foundation is poured. But in a fast-track approach the frame and roof can be fabricated off-site while the foundation is poured, and then assembled on-site once the foundation has cured. Certainly there are disadvantages to a fast-track approach. It can increase costs and raise risk.  But time to completion may require that some activities normally executed sequentially are executed concurrently.

Perhaps the best example of concurrent execution occurred during the Manhattan project when four teams separately researched very different processes for enriching uranium. Now this does not necessarily mean that all teams are permitted to complete their task. When a progress review shows that one team is clearly making more progress than the others, the effort of other teams can be stopped. Yes, its expensive, and yes there are disappointments for the teams that are cut, but the objective is fast-track.

The use of concurrent activities does not have to be as dramatic as using two teams. It might involve outsourcing activities and components. And theseactivities may be outsourced to several suppliers in the interest of motivating each to minimize completion of their part of the project.

Flexible Schedule.

What may be very different for fast-track projects is that the start times and completion times for each activity may be less predictable than in projects that are not grated this status. Since the emphasis is on time, some activities may have to be rescheduled at earlier or even later start dates, and there may not be much advance warning when these changes are made. This can be quite disruptive to follow-on activities in the project as well as to other projects that must share the same resources. As a result resource sequencing becomes a challenge.

 

High-Performance and Lean Teams

Fast-track project teams need to include some of the most reliable performers in the organization. It goes without saying that these individuals must work well together and that the team must include individuals who are skilled in resolving conflict.

Creating an effective and collaborative working environment, and one in which the objectives of time, budget and scope are clear, needs to be purposefully addressed.  Providing up-front organizational and strategy meetings is critical. While such meetings may seem like valuable time is being wasted, and while the pressure is to get to work, the time spent on team issues up front can have significant payoffs later in the project.

When high-performance individuals are collected into one team, there may be a tendency for too much processing. We all know that communications increases geometrically as the number of people in a room increases.  With two people there are only two channels of communication. With three people there are six channels, with four people there are 12, and with 8 people there are 56  … you get the picture. So, to the extent that it is possible, the team should be lean. This may mean, for example, that team composition may change through the lifecycle of project.  By keeping the team lean communication is simpler and wasted time is minimized.    

 

Daily Communication with Stakeholders, End-Users or Customers.

Almost all fast-track projects begin with a close relationship between the project team, customers, end-users or stakeholders. During these meetings the team has a chance to gain a better understanding of the business environment, stakeholder needs, and the urgency of the project.  But, once the project gets underway, the project team, under considerable time pressure may focus inward on their own processes, succumb to group think, and spend less time with project stakeholders. To some extent, stakeholders are sacrificed in the rush to get the job done.  

The real risk is that the project team, solving one problem after another, and making difficult choices, may move away from producing the kind of results that stakeholders expect. This scenario is especially common in software development or software implementation.

How do you solve it? Perhaps the most direct way is to require that the project team maintains regular contact with stakeholders. Sometimes this requires daily contact, formal meetings, and written reports. The best combination depends, of course, upon the history of the organization’s ability to meet end-user or stakeholder’s needs. Nonetheless, this is an important topic to discuss early in the project.

 

Greater Risks Taken for Many Activities on the Critical Path.

In conventional projects risk analysis and planning occurs at the beginning of a project. When risks are high there is an effort to reduce them. But in fast-track projects risks are more organic. Because the pace is fast and because fast-track projects often push organizational knowledge and skills, risk management may be very different.

Keeping a project on the fast track means that attention is always on the critical and near-critical paths. The challenge is to take every reasonable effort to shorten these paths. While allocating more resources is one strategy, it might be necessary to take greater risks and avoid the temptation to get everything right the first time.

 

Flexible Project Strategy

Fast track projects must be flexible. Project managers must be flexible, schedules must be flexible, and top management must be flexible. Even stakeholders must be flexible.  As such, the fast track project follows more of an Agile approach than a Waterfall approach.

 

Summary

While there is increasing pressure to speed all projects to completion, there are but a few that truly deserve fast-track status. Once given this status, they need to be treated differently from the other projects in the portfolio.  In fast-track projects it is everyone’s business to focus on business objectives. All eyes must be on increasing market share, increasing sales or lowering costs. Project structures must reflect this singular emphasis, and it may be necessary to assume greater risks and more ruthless decisions to assure that the project is done on time.