Project Success and Critical Success Factors
While project failures provide insight into how projects can go wrong, project successes provide insight into how project managers can do it right.
Successful projects often score well when measured against the critical success factors (CSFs) cited as guideposts in the project management literature. They have clear goals, effective leadership, open communication, and motivated team members.
CSFs can serve as a useful guidepost when managing a project, but each company will measure its performance against them in its own way: what is good communication for one project team may be considered woefully inadequate by another. Indeed, what makes CSFs so difficult to use as a practical guidepost is their subjectivity.
What really becomes useful, then, are concrete case study examples; studies that explore how one company managing one project creates a project management environment that produces successful results; how they define the critical success factors and how they meet the challenges when it becomes clear that scoring well against these factors requires difficult decisions and deliberate action.
Project Success – Case Studies
When Boeing approved the 777 project, they knew that their design and manufacturing processes would have to change. The ones used in the past produced good but not great project results, and most would not score well when measured objectively against a CSF test. If Boeing was to design and build a significantly different and competitive aircraft, and if they hoped to score higher on the CSF scale, they would have to change their project management culture. And this is precisely what they did. Perhaps the most significant change was the creation of a new and collaborative approach to team work. The changes were successful and the 777 proved to be one of the most successful aircraft in the history of commercial aviation.
Beth Israel Deaconess had to make significant changes if they were to survive and prevent a takeover from the State of Massachusetts. A new CEO was hired and he initiated many projects to save the hospital. At the center of his strategy was an effort to convince skeptical physicians, nurses, and managers that the hospital was indeed in trouble and that unless they began to view it as a financial as well as a health care institution its very survival as a Harvard teaching hospital would be jeopardized. Once convinced that something needed to be done, stakeholders became motivated and project teams were formed to address the major economic and health care related issues. One year after the CEO was hired the hospital was financially secure and the threat of a state takeover was gone.
Removing Obstacles to Effective Project Management Practices
What these short case studies begin to suggest is that achieving project success not only depends upon strong project leadership but also depends upon management’s ability to remove those organizational and social obstacles … present in every organization … that get in the way of effectively using CSFs as a guide to project management practices. Unless deliberate action is taken and these obstacles removed, CSFs remain just posters taped to the wall.
But the most important lesson learned from these case studies is that they provide us with practical and concrete examples of how project managers succeed, how they overcome obstacles, how they motivate team members, and how they create the environment for project success.
For expanded versions of the Beth Israel Deaconess and Boeing case studies as well as other case studies of project successes click here.