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International Journal of Project Management Vol. 17, No. 4, pp.

243±248, 1999
# 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0263-7863/99 $ - see front matter

PII: S0263-7863(98)00040-4

Criteria of project success: an
exploratory re-examination
C S Lim and M Zain Mohamed
Malaysian Graduate School of Management, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM, Serdang, Selangor,

Doubts often arise about what and who actually determine project success. The purpose of this
article is to explore the issues from di€erent perspectives of people looking at the project. The
di€erence between criterion and factor is ®rst discussed. Criteria are the set of principles or
standards by which judgement is made; whereas factors are the set of circumstances, facts, or in-
¯uences which contribute to the result. This article then proposes to classify project success into
two categories: the macro and micro viewpoints. Some pictorial representations and models are
presented to assist in the understanding of the concepts. It is suggested that two criteria are suf-
®cient to determine the macro viewpoint of project success: completion and satisfaction. Whereas
the completion criterion alone is enough to determine the micro viewpoint of project success. #
1999 Elsevier Science Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved
Keywords: project success, criteria, macro and micro viewpoints

In 1994, a well known property developer in Kuala will di€er also. What are these criteria of project
Lumpur undertook a one million square meter shop- success according to the di€erent perspectives? How
ping complex project located in an up-market suburb do we generalise them according to some practical
of Petaling Jaya. The contract was awarded to a classi®cation?
Malaysian±Japanese Consortium for RM100 million
with a completion time of 12 months. What followed The above questions are signi®cant because ®rstly,
was a period of intense construction activity. Finally, they will clarify our thoughts and understanding about
when the construction of the project was completed, project success, and secondly, they will become useful
the contractor took 15 months and RM146 million to particularly to those who are studying and ®nding
build. The contractor put in an extension-of-time ways to improve project and project management per-
(EOT) claim for three months and variation/additional formance.
orders amounted to RM46 million. The developer is
silent over the EOT matter but counter-o€ered RM20
million for the variation/additional orders. The con- Criteria and factors
tractual dispute is still on at the time of writing. The Concise English Dictionary21 explains a criterion
Meanwhile, since opening, the shopping complex has as ``a principle or standard by which anything is or
proven to be very popular with both tenants and shop- can be judged''; whereas a factor is described as ``any
pers. circumstance, fact, or in¯uence which contribute to a
The above case study presents a few doubts to the result''. The pictorial representation of criteria and fac-
project management practice: tors of project success is given in Figure 1.
1. Both the developer and contractor have obviously When we apply the de®nition to project success, we
su€ered losses. From their respective perspectives obtained a similar pictorial respresentation as shown
the project has failed. However, the perception of in Figure 2.
the overall project by the users and stakeholders is From Figure 2 we can see that the criteria of project
very di€erent: the project is a big success! It seems success is the set of principles or standards by which
that we really should not judge project success project success is or can be judged. These are the con-
according to the usual project goals alone, contrary ditions on which judgement can be made. On the other
to normal understanding of project management hand, factors for project success are the set of circum-
concepts. stances, facts, or in¯uences which contribute to the
2. Since everyone (the developer, contractor, users, the project outcomes. These are the in¯uential forces
general public, and so on) will have di€erent expec- which either facilitate or impede project success. They
tations on a project, their criteria of project success contribute to the success or failure of a project, but do
not form the basis of the judgement.

243 243

That being the case. duration. cruel. projects. venture will involve risks. the ideal seldom happen. The gradu- ation criteria include the subjects. Such projects are usually some kind of social Since undertaking a project is a business. But reality is always more and nothing less. the expectation on the outcome of the pro- degree course in a university. If it is not. If it is. exemptions. ants. project success is Some project management literature has used the term normally thought of as the achievement of some pre- as synonymous to criteria. cost. two sets of factors in¯uencing is less successful. passing Macro and micro views of project success marks. we can only know whether the orig- the number of applicants. This is especially so if neither . user. quota. assignments. the losers will come from either or both of the two contractual parties to the project: the Project success perspectives owner/developer or the contractor. For those involved with a project. In reality. Within these two We shall con®ne our discussion to the engineering and groups. Obviously. policy. In order to avoid confusion. multiple parameters such as time. criteria are the set of conditions sucient for a judge. motivation. practical experience. experience. ciety. This is the reason why ship. ational phase of the project. and so on. entrance micro viewpoints. and so on. the owner/developer and contractor and so on. of course. sets of conditions for the award of the degree. which commonly include this article will adopt the term criteria exclusively. and so on. failure The macro viewpoint of project success will address to comply with any of the criteria would result in the the question: Is the original project concept achieved? failure to obtain the degree. Normally. larly the ®nancial ones. the project is considered successful. we must not forget that We shall use one example to illustrate the di€erences the users and the general public do not necessary have between criteria and factors. academic ability. the general public. These factors could be signi®cant. we propose to classify the perspectives admission criteria is a set of conditions for entering of project success into two categories: the macro and the university: quali®cation. if any of the factors The micro viewpoint of project success will deal results in non-admission or non-graduation. the admission ject and the perception of project success or failure and the graduation criteria for that course are the two will be di€erent for everyone. The pictorial It is usually referred to at the conclusion of project representation of this case is shown in Figure 3. determined project goals. tion. ®nance. we could deduce that struction.Criteria of project success: C S Lim and M Z Mohamed Criteria of project success: C S Lim and M Z Mohamed Figure 2 Pictorial representation of the criteria and factors Figure 1 Pictorial representation of criteria and factors for as applied to project success project success Critical factors are extremely important factors. the project On the other hand. health. Hence. travelling. nothing win±win situation for everybody. the student fails to get his degree. Ful®lling the two criteria would mean success in getting the degree. competition. Let us use the example of similar pre-determined goals regarding the project at a high school student wishing to pursue a certain all. options. performance. case. on the users or stakeholders. lodging. construction phase and the parties involved in the con- From the above explanations. Conversely. lecture. the project is successful. the admission and graduation criteria could include Unfortunately. This achievement depends relationship. owner. or a failure. It would be ideal if a project could result in an overall ment to be made. inal project concept is achieved or not at the oper- cation. and so on. developer. The In this article. erectors. any business undertakings and will a€ect every element in the so. quality and safety. or result in certain outcome. sub-contractors. In that with project achievements in smaller component levels. age. We must accept the fact that there may be some winners and some losers along the way. These perspective di€erences will explain would consider a project to be successful as long as the reason why the same project could be considered a their respective project objectives are achieved. but most people will say that as long as the users are satis- they do not determine the success or failure in getting ®ed. suppliers. However. distractions. fees. contractor. lo. there may be included the respective consult- construction projects which involve physical construc. project success should be It is inevitable that an entity might su€er losses to a cer- viewed from the di€erent perspectives of the individual tain extent for various reasons. the degree. examination. particu- success by one and unsuccessful by another. Unless. and risks may result in losses.

¯ood. approvals. to be adjudicated and to be awarded. mis. shortages. comes to the construction phase. cost. The construction phase forms the basis of the micro ject success is likened to that of the forest and the trees. The factors may include feasibility studies. there are plenty of Along the way there are sets of factors impeding on each phase. all the past `sins' changes. and everything must be undone within the macro viewpoint of project success are the conceptual schedule and budget given. become the most acute. experience. wastage. This is the phase where at the trees? This article suggests that we should be all the project goals like time. damages. Figure 5 depicts a framework for the macro view- point of project success. established and put to test. performance. data of various kind. If the idea ticks. to be tendered. struction phase has been the focus of many stu- Figure 4 depicts a model of the building blocks of dies. But ®rst. How e€ective are the pro- ject management functions and how successful are the project goals will determine how much the individual Project success frameworks party will perceive the project success from their own Based on the above explanations. 2. 14. safety. These phases are where aware that there may be important issues not being `the million dollar question' is ®rst conceptualised and properly addressed in the preceding phases. thefts. decided. We must therefore be phase and operational phase. interfacing. the project will be per- selves. when it takes. The completion criteria and Figure 4 Building blocks of project life cycle . qual- looking at both. 5. The concepts of macro and micro viewpoints of pro. and so on. to be designed. site conditions. three models to assist in the better understanding of One interesting observation to note is that the con- the concepts.1.Figure 3 Pictorial representation of getting a university degree of them are the future users or stakeholders them. and so on of the contractual parties are that there are two viewpoints of project success. logistics. Finally. (inadequacies) of every preceding phases manifest The two project phases which form the basis of the themselves. examples where a project takes a long time to be marketing research. workmanship. cost and quality requirements from the conceptual phase to the operation phase. we have presented perspective. ®nally tested. 15 It is during the construction phase that the complete project life cycle as a project progresses the demands for time. to be planned. 4. weather. ceived to be successful. supervision. we must appreciate the fact ity. In practice. Are we looking at the forest? Or are we looking viewpoint of project success.

weather. This is the acid test of the original concept of the project. per- There is a set of factors in¯uencing the completion cri. 7. concerned with construction completion and achieving fering period of road blocks. Also. quality. 19. trac jams. today it stands proudly as an en- gineering masterpiece and the symbol of Sydney. the developer (non-operator) and the con- It could be seen that the ®rst criterion for project tractor are the groups of people who will look at pro- success is completion. users. their own project objectives: time. organis- cess seems to be correlated to the level of the users' ation. Generally. and so on. and so on. especially if they are not user. These factors include economy. cost. users are less demanding on the com- pletion criterion then the satisfaction criterion. There are cases whereby the users are so satis®ed with the project that they are prepared to forgive and forget the inadequacies of the completion criterion. human. the owner. 18. prestige. they would consider the project to be a supervision. If the The factors in¯uencing the completion criteria have project is well accepted by the users. the road users would like to shorten the suf. aspirations. The higher the level of user satisfac. emphasised that each industry will have their own tion. The factors in¯uencing the satisfaction criteria could include convenience. yet. location. management. safety. it must then the user or stakeholder or not. been the study of many scholars. the set of conditions for determining project success. and the contractors are very much business. cost. the level of perceived suc. 15. stakeholders and the gen- eral public are the groups of people who will look at The criteria are in turn in¯uenced by a set of factors. The condition in this instance is ject success from the micro viewpoint. The completion criteria are turn in¯uenced by sets of factors respectively. 14. The intangible force is so overriding that whatever inade- quacies in the project management of this building are overlooked. ®nance.1±5. risk environment. the time factor. this is a special case and it should not be taken as the norm. Figure 6 Micro viewpoint of project success .Figure 5 Macro viewpoint of project success satisfaction criteria are the two sets of conditions for Figure 6 depicts a framework for the micro view- determining project success. In special case like this. and so on. However. stake- may like a certain time to move in and commence holder or operator. It must be satisfaction level. Generally. and so on. One classic example would be the famous Sydney Opera House. Once they achieve their teria. and so on. For instance. commercial. The dotted lines indicate in the model (Figure 5) that under special cases the completion condition could be ignored. success. whether or not the completed project satis®es Once the project has been completed. 22 The ceived to be successful. The two criteria are in point of project success. the completion criterion would fade into insigni®cance and there will be only one criterion left: satisfaction. the higher the level of perceived success of the project. the project is per. Generally. factors include technical. parking. formance. project success from the macro viewpoint.8 This project took 15 years (from 1958 to 1973) and 14 times the original budget (from A$7 million to A$102 million) to build. the commercial tenants The developer. satisfy the second criterion: satisfaction.

Corporate understanding of project management.20 who suggested that the essence of success. 9. New York. S. and projects and project management performance. A compara- has led to the current e€ort in re-examining the under. exist. The macro viewpoint takes care of the 2. 187± 190. 30±39. 77±81. 8.E. Client consultation. P. Communication. 6. H. 3. The developer and contractor looks at project success from the micro viewpoint. Kerzner. postulated three level structures for the cause of pro. and viewpoint usually concerns the construction parties. works have been presented to assist in the better 9. D. Guzin. Scheduling. Causes of delay in the con- far expounded could not explain the reason(s) why the struction industry. Baker et al. and Kumaraswamy. ed. The initial ®ndings seemed to suggest that there could be a possible area for further research and academic debate. Australia. D. and San. Organisational adaptability. Kerzner. we have con. This 5. 669± One of the most important ®ndings arising from the 685.. Chan. When the question of criteria of project success was Another point to note is that the set of completion addressed to the interviewees. This scenario con®rmed that ambiguities do as the set of completion criteria for the macro view... 1997. D. 5th edn. GE15(1). M. Fern. same project could be considered as `successful' by one 1971..-K. M. Fodor's Travel Publications Inc. Australia Transactions. and be considered as `failure' by another. public projects in Turkey. It is hoped 10. the sets of completion criteria and satisfaction criteria tors: are sucient to determine the macro viewpoint of pro- 4.18 studied ten critical success factors 1. Construction Management and Rosenau. 11. 7. Journal of Nicholas. Personnel. Client acceptance. and Muhammad. 177±187. viewpoints. Mohammed. Baldwin. this topic has been in- Previous studies corporated as part of a post graduate research project Preliminary review of the literature showed that the for detailed investigation. In search of excellence in project management.19 who identi®ed ten general fac. R. 6. Arditi.-H. Pinto and Slevin. Project mission. G. Technical tasks.. Where do project costs really go wrong? I. B.15 who listed twenty-two hypoth- eses for the success or failure of projects. H. ASCE 97. during lunches Reinhold. There are two possible viewpoints of project success: the macro and micro 1. and Fisher. J. 1985. and Manthei. party. King. project success. 1997. 13. the e€orts in ®nding more ecient ways of improving 12. Scheduling. D. In order to further clarify our views. International Journal of Project Management. The micro 5.. at the oces. Lewis. Baker. even in the minds of the experts. Murphy. McGraw Hill. J. R. A.. Three pictorial representations and three frame- 8. together. Cleland. Executive commitment to project management.unique set of factors. Some of the major works included: 1. . Factors A€ecting Project Success. R. perience survey con®rmed the need to further clarify the issue. Experience survey 7. ject success from the macro viewpoint. and at casual engagements.3 who postulated that the perceived Conclusions project success of failure is not a function of time and cost. Cleland and D.. in Project Management Handbook. T. Daniel W. Reasons for delays in over the project life cycle. 1983. I. Kerzner. alone is sucient to determine the micro viewpoint of 6. Monitoring and feedback. Project manager selection criteria. The Project Manager's Desk ReferenceÐA Comprehensive Guide To Project Planning. Commitment to planning and control. The users 3.9 who identi®ed six critical success factors re-inforced the observation that project success is for successful projects: dependent on perspectives. of delay in large building construction projects. standing of the issue. D. The preliminary ®nding from the exploratory studies 2. 1995. Whereas the set of completion criteria 5. Van Nostrand during site visits. conclusive ®nding after the study is completed.. that the explanation and models could contribute to 11. ject failure. M. New York. Project schedule/plan. ject success.. 15(1). Fodor's 97. 1995.17 who identi®ed fourteen critical points and Management in Engineering. and stakeholders are usually the ones looking at pro- 4. N. period of three months. and Controlling. 171±181. Project manager's leadership style. and King. ducted an experience survey with about forty experi. Trouble-shooting. Assaf. This article suggests that 3. Economics. 55±63. 1987. Systems Analysis and Project Management.. A. preliminary literature survey was that the factors so 4. tive study of causes of time overruns in Hong Kong construc- tion projects. O. question ``does the original concept tick?''. W. References Pinto and Prescott.. Causes ple constraints of time. The respective sets of in¯uencing factors di€er The conclusions from the previous studies and ex- in contents also. 1975. ful project management consisted of satisfying the tri. 45±50. Morris and Hough. A.. 2nd edn. Subsequently. 2. enced project professionals in Kuala Lumpur over a Journal of Systems Management. opinions were found to criteria for the micro viewpoint may not be the same be split. D. C. Journal of Construction Division. understanding of project success concepts.. We hope to present a more topic has been researched extensively in the eighties. point. J. Van Nostrand.. M. The information collection 10. I. Top management. Project ManagementÐA Systems Approach to technique used was through unstructured interviews Planning. 1991. 3. cost and performance.

project Projects. S. New Orchard. A. engineering from the Auckland 13. Sloan Management Review.. M. Project Management. H. Lock. Project ManagementÐA include the practice and education in Managerial Approach. and Mantel. England. Jr. E. 1996. L. 12. J. Scandinavian Journal of Management. and Sparkes. John gineering consulting and contracting Wiley and Sons. 181±186. and Slevin. Prentice Hall. 1984. P. O. Maylor. E. Variations in critical success implementing TQM and strategic management in projects environ- factors over the stages in the project life cycle. Journal of ment. 1993. Pinto. W. Zain Mohamed is an 41. Gower. Mans®eld. from Manchester Business School. 1988. J. 1987... Hayword. H.. Pinto. Management of Business and Engineering project risk management.. Morris. 33± Dr M. Pitman Publishing. D. K. G. Innovation and Change. 15(3). Management. 19. J. R. His papers have appeared in Technovation. G. Bhd by arrangement with Prabos Publishing Co. Causes of delay obtained his MBA (Technology and cost overruns in Nigerian construction projects. engineering project management. 1992. John Wiley and Sons. K. M. Project Management. International Journal of Project Management. T. J. and Doran. and Prescott. J.. D. 1997. The Concise English Malaysian Graduate School of Dictionary. N. University. He received his PhD ject sponsor. The Anatomy of Major has extensive experience in the en- Projects: A Study of the Reality of Project Management. 18. P. industries. 5th edn. 1994. Ir.. 1990. J. Ugwu. D. 14(1). S. Wright. Lim is a PhD student. Universiti Putra 22.. C. Malaysia. Time and budget: the twin imperatives of a pro.. Project Management for Engineers. 1990. His professional interests 16. Australia. Rosenau. 5±18. 254± Deakin University. Evaluation. O. Associate Professor of Management 20.. 1987. 2nd edn. in electrical 12. J. Nicholas. Golden Books Center Sdn Ir. 1989. Balancing strategy and tactics in project implementation. . His ®rst degree is B.. 260. N. Van and the Director of the Doctoral Nostrand Reinhold. He 14. Programmes of the newly formed 21. Lim is a Professional Engineer and 15. R. J. Management. New Zealand. International Journal of Information Management. Management) from APESMA- International Journal of Project Management. Control and Systems. Asian Academy of Management Journal and Entrepreneurship. 17. Jr. J. Meredith. contract management. His research interests are in the ®elds of Management of Innovation and Information Systems. economics... and Hough.