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What Makes Projects Successful?
By Michael D. Taylor

The Standish Group’s CHAOS report, as well as other studies on Project Success and Project Failure, have revealed at least ten factors that contribute to a project’s success.

Factor No. 1: Successful projects reached agreement among stakeholders on the goals of the project. Though this may sound easy to accomplish but in real life it can be one of the most challenging aspects of a new project. This is because each stakeholder has a different interest in the project, and often they conflict with each other.

Factor No. 2: Successful projects placed overall project responsibility on a project manager (schedule, technical, cost). Until one individual was given overall project responsibility, each manager had a “piece of the pie.” The result was having customers who became frustrated when no one could give them the overall status of the project.

Factor No. 3: Successful projects established clear stakeholder responsibilities. Many key stakeholders today are unclear about their role in a new project. Successful projects were found to have defined roles and responsibilities described for each key stakeholder. This was often achieved using responsibility allocation matrices.

Factor No. 4: Successful projects had a means of measuring project progress. In order to know the true status of a project, its progress had to be measurable. Methods such as Earned-Value Management (EVM) were often used to measure and track project progress.

Factor No. 5: Successful projects had constant open communications between stakeholders. As projects progressed, key stakeholders met often to examine the status of a project and to exchange vital information that kept them aligned around project goals.

Factor No. 6: Successful projects controlled project scope. Unsuccessful projects often faced random changes to the product, most often by adding features that were not necessarily desired by the customer. As a result, scope increased. Successful projects had mature change-control processes that minimized scope creep.

Factor No. 7: Successful projects had effective upper management support. It was not only at the beginning of a new project that key stakeholders provided vital support, but they also maintained support to the project manager throughout the project lifecycle.

Factor No. 8: Successful projects captured customer needs and prevented design drift. Reviewing customer requirements (needs) based on modern marketing techniques enabled corporations to identify what the customer actually needed. They recognized that customers are unsure of their needs until they knew what could be provided. These projects had a keen awareness of how easily the product design could slip away from what the customer actually wanted—sometimes called “design drift.”

Factor No. 9: Successful projects empowered multifunctional teams. Unsuccessful projects had teams with little or no decision-making authority. Often they were micromanaged. Successful projects delegated proper decision-making authority to their teams after providing clear team objectives.

Factor No. 10: Successful projects emphasized risk management. Not only were risks identified throughout the project lifecycle but they were quantified, prioritized, and effective risk responses were developed.

MICHAEL D. TAYLOR, M.S. in systems management, B.S. in electrical engineering, has more than 30 years of project, outsourcing, and engineering experience. He is principal of Systems Management Services, and has conducted project management training at the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension in their PPM Certificate program for over 13 years, and at companies such as Sun Microsystems, GTE, Siemens, TRW, Loral, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Inprise. He also taught courses in the UCSC Extension Leadership and Management Program (LAMP), and was a guest speaker at the 2001 Santa Cruz Technology Symposium. His website is www.projectmgt.com.

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