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Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

Lavagnon A. Ika, Universit du Qubec en Outaouais, Gatineau, Qubec, Canada


This article highlights the characteristics of articles on project success published between 1986 and 2004 in the Project Management Journal (PMJ) and the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM). The analysis covers references, concepts like project management success, project success, success criteria, and success factors; features of the samples, data collection, and analysis techniques used; and professional disciplines. The results show that research on project success is characterized by diversity except in epistemological and methodological perspectives. The article suggests a shift to project, portfolio, and program success and concludes with a discussion on the traditional state of the research, criticizes its assumptions, and offers alternative metaphors and recommendations for future research.


KEYWORDS: project success; project management success; PMJ; IJPM

Project Management Journall, Vol. 40, No. 4, 619 2009 by the Project Management Institute Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/pmj.20137

nterest in project management has grown considerably over the last few years, with academics and practitioners alike demonstrating keen interest in the field. More than just a passing novelty, project management offers organizations the means to be efficient, effective, and competitive in a shifting, complex, and unpredictable environment. Surging interest in the field has led to the founding of professional organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the International Project Management Association (IPMA). We also now have scientific journals dedicated to the field of project management, including the Project Management Journal (PMJ) and the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM), and they have become well-established references. Given the specific nature of project managementit is a professional and scientific specialization that differs from traditional management by the generally limited, temporary, innovative, unique, and multidisciplinary nature of projectsit is widely recognized that project management requires its own tools and techniques (Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996). It would be an oversimplification to speak of project management as a group of specific tools and techniques that one simply has to apply toward the attainment of specific management objectives. Certainly, it is true that project scheduling problems as well as planning techniques such as program evaluation and review technique (PERT) and critical path method (CPM) have preoccupied investigators and practitioners for decades. These people have shared a deep conviction that the development of better scheduling techniques would lead to better project management and, thus, project success (Belassi & Tukel, 1996). Despite such scientific activity and the tireless efforts of practitioners, projects results continue to disappoint stakeholders (Wateridge, 1995). Today, as in the past, experienced project managers are all too familiar with many cases of projects that are considered failures. Without entering into a detailed discussion and listing failed projects, it can be said that, from a professional point of view, it is important to understand the success and failure of projects. It is no secret that project managers continue to be evaluated, in their practice, according to the outcomes of the projects they manage, and that their careers and the success of their organizations depend on performance in these projects. From a scientific perspective, project success undoubtedly remains a central concern, and much has been written and said about this specific issue (Cooke-Davies, 2002). It should therefore not come as a surprise that PMI devoted its entire 1986 symposium, held in Montral, to this subject (Baccarini, 1999; de Wit, 1988). Given the specific ambiguity surrounding project success (Belassi & Tukel, 1996), this issue presents significant problems for investigators. As the proverb says, Success is one of the names of God. This bit of wisdom is particularly germane: if studies of project success are popular, they have not led to a consensus on, a definition of, nor a means for measuring such success

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(Pinto & Slevin, 1988a). The second issue stems from the fact that project success is dependent on ones perception and perspective. This leads Baker, Murphy, and Fisher (1974) to conclude that there is probably no such thing as absolute success in project management: there is only the perceived success of a project. They also point out that how we evaluate success probably changes over time. All of the stakeholders in any given project can hardly be said to hold the same point of view on this matter (Lim & Mohamed, 1999). Project success and project failure are not necessarily opposite or contradictory notions (Fincham, 2002), nor are they a black and white issue, to borrow the expression used by Baccarini (1999). This ambiguity would appear to present a serious hurdle to investigators, and it has provoked lively debate. There is also a rising tide of criticism of the research that has been conducted on project management in general and on project success in particular (Sderlund, 2004). In this respect, the research is often criticized for being underdeveloped and not founded on a solid theoretical and conceptual groundwork (see, for example, Shenhar & Dvir, 1996). There have been many calls for an assessment of what has actually been achieved by the research on project management, a profession that continues to flourish (see, for example, Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002a, 2002b). Admittedly, the idea of stopping to take stock of research on project management may appear very tempting. It would be interesting to see if the investigators have met expectations concerning the theoretical and social relevance of their work. However, the prospect of identifying these issues is even more exciting in terms of the challenges and opportunities it represents. Given that the art of project management (practice) would appear to take precedence over the science of project management (theory), highlighting aspects of research on project success would give the issue new life and perhaps inspire others to

take up related subjects in the near future. This is the objective of this research. More specifically, it aims to identify the main points raised in articles on project success published between 1986 and 2004 in the two most important scientific journals on project management, PMJ and IJPM. Our main interest is to stimulate reflection on the issue of project success and lay the foundation of a new theoretical framework for research into project success. We will begin by clarifying the notion of project success, and then we will discuss the components of the conceptual framework established to attain the objectives of our analysis. We will then explore the main elements of the studys operational framework. Finally, we will present and discuss our findings and the assumptions underlying the research on the project success topic, along with the research possibilities to which they lead.

The Concept of Project Success

The concept of project success is difficult to define. As defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), success is the accomplishment of an aim; a favourable outcome. But what can be said of project success? Without venturing onto risky terrain, we can say that there is no consensus as to what constitutes project success or project failure. Pinto and Slevin (1988a) suggested that few concepts in project management have been addressed in the literature on a regular basis without the investigators being able to reach a consensus on definitions. Wells (1998) goes so far as to complain about how little attention has been paid to defining success, except what could be said in the most general terms. Arriving at a definition of project success would appear to represent an enormous challenge to investigators. Several authors simply presume that everyone knows what is meant by project success and project failure. The only thing that is certain in project management is that success is an ambiguous,

inclusive, and multidimensional concept whose definition is bound to a specific context. Without going so far as to propose a complete definition, we can nevertheless frame project success in terms of other concepts such as efficiency and effectiveness. Many authors and practitioners consider efficiency and effectiveness synonymous, and this confusion is often present in the project management literature (Belout, 1998). As described by the famous American author Peter Drucker, efficiency is to do things right, or to maximize output for a given quantity of inputs or resources, and effectiveness is to do the right things, or to attain the projects goals and objectives. Drucker considers effectiveness more important than efficiency (see OShaugnessy, 1992, p. 13, among others). Project success therefore corresponds to a projects efficiency and effectiveness (Belout, 1998). As proposed here, the definition of the concept of success remains very broad. Implicitly or explicitly, the authors generally discuss project success with the conviction that they are talking about project management success or more than successful project management (the project success). Within the conceptual framework of this review, a distinction is necessary between project management success and project success. Project success has long been considered the ability to fall within time, cost, and quality constraints. The time/cost/quality triangle or iron triangle, or the golden triangle, that some professionals call the Holy Trinity or the triangle of virtue sufficed as a definition of project success (Atkinson, 1999; Hazebroucq & Badot, 1996, p. 35; Westerveld, 2003). However, projects have often enough been delivered within time, cost, and quality, only to be considered failures (this is the case of the second generation of the Ford Taurus car that was completed on time in 1995 but turned out to be a disappointing business experience [Shenhar et al., 2005]). At the same time, other projects that have exceeded time or cost

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Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

constraints are generally considered successful (Pinto & Slevin, 1988a). The Thames Barrier, the Fulmar North Sea Oil project, the Concorde, the Sydney Opera House, and the first generation of the Ford Taurus car are several good examples (Lim & Mohamed, 1999; Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996; Shenhar et al., 2005). The percussion effect, to borrow from Hazebroucq (1993), would appear to apply: projects that were perceived as failures at their launch would later become models of success, while others considered successes at their launch turned into catastrophes. A project team may therefore be wrongly congratulated or blamed, depending on when a project is considered a success or failure. It was this apparent paradox that led de Wit (1988) to suggest a distinction between project success and project management success. Considering the tautological perspective under which a project only exists in terms of predefined objectives (Hazebroucq & Badot, 1996, p. 35), de Wit (1988) takes issue with the equation: project objectives project management objectives. For Munns and Bjeirmi (1996), the project management objectives differ from the project objectives, and we can no longer afford to confuse strict adherence to the time/cost/quality trianglethe most common objective of project managementwith project success. This dichotomy is very important, because in terms of this review it enables us to draw a distinction between articles that discuss success as project management success from articles that treat project success as more than project management success. The concept of project success remains vague and ambiguous, to the point that the literature on project management does not reach a broader consensus on its definition and measurement than to say that it involves efficiency and effectiveness. The authors we reviewed nevertheless agree on its importance and on the existence of project success criteria and critical factors. This conceptual framework will be discussed in more detail in the next section. Project Success Criteria and Critical Success Factors Research on project success generally falls into one of the following categories, depending on the subject of study: either they deal with project success criteria (or dimensions) or they examine critical success factors (CSFs). On occasion, we observe a hybrid category that acts as a bridge between CSFs and success criteria. It is important to clarify these two concepts, because it is not unusual to come across a discussion that blurs the distinction between them or even takes them for synonyms (Lim & Mohamed, 1999). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998) suggests that a criterion is a principle or standard that a thing is judged by, while a factor is a circumstance, fact, or influence contributing to a result. Project success criteria may therefore refer to a group of principles or standards used to determine or judge project success, and critical success factors refer more specifically to conditions, events, and circumstances that contribute to project results. We will now take a closer look at the project success criteria. A classic solution to the problem of how to measure project success is to propose a simple formula that is unequivocal, that can easily be applied, and that the parties can agree to (Dvir, Raz, & Shenhar, 2003; Pinto & Slevin, 1988a). Hence, the triangle of virtue: time, cost, and quality as criteria for measuring success. Some writers maintain that the quality criterion involves meeting functional and technical specifications. Many more lay out a bolder proposal: quality is an ambiguous, multidimensional, and subjective concept that lends itself to different interpretations by various project stakeholders (see Wateridge, 1995). The limited scope of this trilogy has been singled out for criticism (Hazebroucq & Badot, 1996). Baker et al. (1974) added the issue of client satisfaction. Project success therefore becomes a virtuous square of criteria: time, cost, quality, and client satisfaction. In subsequent articles (see Baccarini, 1999; Lim & Mohamed, 1999; Shenhar, Levy, & Dvir, 1997, among others), project success becomes a hexagon, where, in addition to the traditional dimensions of time, cost, and quality, we find the realization of the strategic objectives of the client organization that initiated the project, the satisfaction of end users, and the satisfaction of other stakeholders. If project success criteria are known, the fact remains that there are a certain number of conditions that must be met in order for a project to be successful. Research on critical success factors, the levers that a project manager can employ to bolster a projects odds at success, began by focusing attention on different aspects of project control (Westerveld, 2003). Then Baker, Murphy, and Fisher (1974) suggested replacing the time/cost/quality triangle by a measure of perceived success. These studies usually consisted of practitioners summarizing their experience and were not the result of scientific empiricism (Hazebroucq, 1993). It was Slevin and Pinto (1986) who proposed a scientific basis for success that comprises ten key success factors: project mission, top management support, project schedules/plan, client consultation, personnel, technical tasks, client acceptance, monitoring and feedback, troubleshooting, and communication. These ten factors are more or less manageable by the project team. Pinto and Slevin (1988b) then extended this list with four additional factors considered outside the project implementation process and therefore outside the teams control: characteristics of the project team leader, power and politics, environmental events, and urgency. Many CSF lists and frameworks have been proposed by different authors, and some studies were done on the specific relation between a particular CSF and project success (see Jugdev & Mller, 2005).

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For example, Henderson (2004) studied the association between the project managers communication competency and project success. Given the uniqueness of projects and their temporary nature, research on CSFs will also take the project life cycle into account (Pinto & Slevin, 1988b). Again, according to these authors, in the project design phase, project mission and client consultation would appear to be the most important factors. In the project planning phase, the key success factors are project mission, top management support, client acceptance, and urgency. During project execution, the key factors are project mission, characteristics of the project team leader, troubleshooting, project schedules/plan, technical tasks, and client consultation. Finally, at project closing phase, the key success factors are technical tasks, project mission, and client consultation. Ultimately, Pinto and Slevin (1988b), among others, have drawn several lessons from the CSFs. But the exercise is more productive when we take into account both project success factors and success criteria. Very few articles discuss both success factors and success criteria, and few empirical studies have sought to examine important links between CSFs and success criteria (Tan, 1996). In 1994, in an editorial on developments in project management, Turner made the following observation:
A lot has been written over the past ten years about how to achieve project success (the key factors). However, very little has been written about how success is measured or judged (the criteria). A PhD student of mine was able to find only two references. How can you say what the correct success factors are until you have identified the criteria?

Research in the area of CSFs and success criteria has demonstrated that it is simply impossible to develop an exhaustive list that will meet the needs of all projects. This stems directly from the fact that success criteria and CSFs can differ so much from one project to another due to variables such as project scope, uniqueness, and complexity (Wateridge, 1998). However, the idea of a universal set of project success criteria, on one hand, and a universal grouping of CSFs, on the other, would appear to be garnering more attention (Lim & Mohamed, 1999; Westerveld, 2003). This is an idea that runs through articles linking success factors with success criteria, and these articles should not be categorized as either work on project success criteria or work on success factors.

Operational Framework
The objective of this study is to highlight the characteristics of published research on project success. This section deals with the methodological aspects of the work. In this instance, we needed to begin by selecting the journals and articles to include in our review. As a point of departure, we constructed a search statement comprising the terms project management success (or project success), project success criteria, and project success factors, and looked for bibliographic entries in the ABI/INFORM GLOBAL database. (Note that ABI/INFORM GLOBAL is one of the worlds first electronic databases covering business, management, economics, and a wide range of related fields. It contains citations with abstracts to articles appearing in more than 2,700 international periodicals, 75% of which are published in the United States. ABI/INFORM has been a premier source of business information for more than 30 years. [ l, retrieved November 30, 2006]). This statement was based on the need to make a distinction between project

Hence, there is the need to clarify project success criteria, select project CSFs at project start-up, and ensure that all stakeholders agree with their definition (Wateridge, 1995).

management success and project success and the desire to examine research on project success criteria, studies of CSFs, and articles linking project success factors with success criteria. The research statement was therefore: (project management success or project success) or project success criteria or project success factors. This query generated 13,054 notices containing at least one of the terms, whether in the title, in keywords, or in the abstract, including 5,232 notices from scientific journals, many of which came from the Project Management Journal and the International Journal of Project Management. We decided to limit our review to articles published in PMJ and IJPM from January 1986 to March 2004. Our review then covers 76 out of the 82 issues of PMJ and 70 issues of IJPM, and we were able to retrieve 179 notices from PMJ and 66 notices from IJPM. The decision to keep a notice turned on an analysis of the notices content and from January to March 2004, 30 scientific articles were finally selected and analyzed. (See the Appendix for the rationale leading to the selection of only PMJ and IJPM among all the scientific journals, of the 30 articles and the period from January 1986 to March 2004.) The critical analysis of articles will therefore address references, the meanings given to project management success or project success, objects of study related to success (success criteria, success factors, or links between success factors and success criteria), features of the samples, data collection and analysis techniques used, and professional disciplines. Also, a retrospective look of the development of the field is suggested. A review of references will be used to capture the journals interest in project success. The meanings given to project success, whether project management success or project success, are pertinent to developing an opinion on the more or less explicit conception that the authors have of project success. The objects of this study, project success

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Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

criteria, success factors, and links between project success factors and project success criteria, will be used to get closer to the traditional categories found in the literature on project success. Sampling aspects, how data is collected, and data-analysis techniques will enable us to address methodological concerns. Finally, professional disciplines encountered in the review will indicate the areas of knowledge in which project success has been studied. The following section presents our findings. Meanings Given to Project Management Success and Project Success Either implicitly or explicitly, the articles reviewed would appear to treat project success as more than project management success. (The exceptions are articles by Beale and Freeman [1991], Freeman and Beale [1992], Paek [1995], Clarke [1999], and Jang and Lee [1998], which treat success as project management success; i.e., they rather tacitly consider success to be compliance with time, cost, and quality constraints.) In other words, 25 of 30 articles take criteria other than time, cost, and quality into consideration in their definitions of project success (in order to avoid any confusion, Baccarini [1999] prefers to speak of product success): satisfying the expectations of clients, end-users, and stakeholders. This finding stands in stark contrast with the traditional notion of success (the triple-constraint criteria of project management success) held by practitioners and investigators. Perhaps this surprising finding is explained by this studys relatively small sample and the fact that one-half of the articles reviewed are conceptual.

1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 Jan. to March 2004 Total

1 1 3


1 1 3

1 1 1

1 1 1

Presentation and Analysis of Findings

The 30 articles selected will be analyzed according to the seven rubrics previously mentioned. References Table 1 shows the number of articles published on project success in each of the two journals between January 1986 and March 2004. Project success would appear to receive the same amount of attention in PMJ and IJPM. The first eight articles were of course published by PMJ between 1986 and 1992, because IJPM was not easily accessed before 1992, the year that ABI/INFORM began including it in the index (see Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002a, 2002b). IJPMs interest in project success becomes apparent from 1995 to 1999 when it published ten articles on the subject, or a third of all the publications in the study period (1986 2004). At least this was the observation made by Themistocleous and Wearne in 2000 when they analyzed the themes taken up in the two journals. Themistocleous and Wearne underscored the growing attention IJPM appeared to be paying to project success. They thought that the change was rooted in an economic environment characterized by recession and progressively tighter budgets. As we expected, most of the articles on success were published in the 1990s. It is still surprising, however, that PMJ has only published one article on project success between 2000 and 2004.

2 2 1 3 2 3 2

2 4 1 3 5

1 1 2 3

1 3 3




Table 1: Number of articles published per journal, January 1986 to March 2004.

A Retrospective Look at the Development of the Field Over the Years

Because our understanding of project success is evolving (Jugdev & Mller, 2005), it is useful to see how the field of research on project success develops over the years. Table 2 portrays trends regarding project management success/ project success and shows the gradual understanding weve had on project success. The framework involves three periods. Period 1 (1960s1980s) illustrates the supreme reign of the iron triangle (project management success) as the criterion of success. During that period, the literature was theoretical and provided anecdotic lists of critical success factors. Instead, Period 2 (1980s2000s) was dominated by empirical work such as Pinto and Slevins

Does this indicate a lack of interest on their part, or is it simply a coincidence? It is difficult to ascertain. Maybe this is due to the late 1990s criticism against research on project success. It is also important to point out that a total of 15 conceptual articles out of 30 appeared in the two journals (six in PMJ in the period leading up to 1992 and nine in IJPM). One could conclude that IJPM appears to publish more conceptual articles on success, but such an assertion should be moderated by the fact that IJPM is published six to eight times per year, while PMJ is published on a quarterly basis.

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Research Focus
Success criteria

Period 1 1960s1980s
Iron triangle (time, cost, quality)

Period 2 1980s2000s
Iron triangle Client satisfaction Benefits to organization (org) End-users satisfaction Benefits to stakeholders Benefits to project personnel

Period 3 21st Century

Iron triangle Strategic objective of client organizations and business success End-users satisfaction Benefits to stakeholders Benefits to project personnel and symbolic and rhetoric evaluations of success and failure More inclusive CSF frameworks and symbolic and rhetoric success factors Project/product, portfolio, and program success and narratives of success and failure

Success factors Emphasis

Anecdotic lists Project management success

CSF lists and frameworks Project/product success

Table 2: Measuring success across time.

10 CSF framework (1988b). Although the iron triangle is still very important, other success criteria are welcomed (Atkinson, 1999), and the emphasis shifts from project management success to project/product success (Baccarini, 1999; Shenhar et al., 1997). Period 3, as we envisage it, will welcome other context-dependent and, most important, project/product, portfolio, and program success criteria and CSFs (see, for example, Cooke-Daviess 12 CSF framework, 2002), as well as symbolic and rhetoric ones. In fact, strategic project management will be an issue (see, for instance, Jugdev & Mller, 2005; Shenhar et al., 2005), and narratives of success and failure will have their fair share of papers (Fincham, 2002). Objects of Study Table 3 reveals that the preferred subject of authors writing on project success is CSFs. There were a total of 15 articles on success factors, or half of the articles reviewed: eight on success criteria and seven on the links between CSFs and success criteria. This finding lends support to the notion that studies on project success are too often focused on success factors and not often enough on the criteria or, more specifically, the links between success

1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 Jan. to March 2004 Total

Success Criteria

Success Factors



1 1 1 1

1 3

1 1 1

1 1 1

1 2 1 1 3 2 1

1 2

2 4 1 3 4

1 2 1 8 2 15

1 1

2 3 3


Table 3: Number of articles on success published between 1986 and March 2004, by object of study.

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Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

factors and success criteria, as previously mentioned. We also observe that it was only in 1995 that concerns began to emerge for discovering links between project success factors and project success criteria, and these issues began to be regularly discussed in articles on project success. Beginning that same year, five out of seven articles dealt with links between project success factors and project success criteria. Tables 4, 5, and 6 list articles by object of study. other professionals, such as managers, senior management, engineers, information system analysts, programmers, sponsors, and users. Data-Collection Techniques Investigators writing on project success tend to use questionnaires sent out by mail and then use the Likert scale. They prefer evaluative or exploratory questions to open techniques like an in-depth interview. In this perspective, subjects are considered to have much the same framework of reference and the same perception of the measurement scale, but this is clearly not always the case. Cost savings are often cited as the reason for this method. But it is clear that, more or less implicitly, investigators believe that they have discovered or revealed the laws or rules governing relationships between different aspects of a social reality represented by a project and therefore adopt an objectivist approach in their study of project success. Several studies have nevertheless used questionnaires and interviews to reduce the risk of responses from subjects who do not fulfill the conditions required for participation in the study and who, due to the anonymity of their responses, would have otherwise biased results. Data-Analysis Techniques Research on project success is, by and large, quantitative. The time/cost/ quality triangle, we will recall, has two dimensions that are easily quantifiable; hence, the use of statistical techniques for analyzing data. It is revealing that no study has used content analysis in the articles published between January 1986 and March 2004. In fact, the rationalist/normative view is the prevailing one in project management research (Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006; Fincham, 2002; Packendorff, 1995). There is no shortage of descriptive statistics in most of the studies of project success; they use numerical methods of calculation to obtain data on central tendency and dispersion (mean, median, mode, rank, frequency, etc.) or make use of graphs (distributions

Ashley, Lurie, & Jaselskis, 1987, PMJ, 18(2) de Wit, 1988, PMJ, 6(3) Wateridge, 1995, IJPM, 13(3) Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996, IJPM, 14(2) Tan, 1996, PMJ, 27(2) Clarke, 1999, IJPM, 17(3) Westerveld, 2003, IJPM, 21(6)
Table 6: Linking success factors and success criteria.

Slevin & Pinto, 1986, PMJ, 17(4) Pinto & Slevin, 1988b, PMJ, 19(3) Hubbard, 1990, PMJ, 21(3) Beale & Freeman, 1991, PMJ, 22(4) Lidow, 1999, PMJ, 30(4) Paek, 1995, PMJ, 26(4) Belassi & Tukel, 1996, IJPM, 14(3) Jiang, Klein, & Balloun, 1996, PMJ, 27(4) Belout, 1998, IJPM, 16(1) Jang & Lee, 1998, IJPM, 16(2) Cooke-Davies, 2002, IJPM, 20(1) Dvir, Raz, & Shenhar, 2003, IJPM, 21(1) Finch, 2003, PMJ, 34(3) Sderlund, 2004, IJPM, 22(3) Belout & Gauvreau, 2004, IJPM, 22(1)
Table 4: Success criteria.

Pinto & Slevin, 1988a, PMJ, 19(1) Freeman & Beale, 1992, PMJ, 23(1) Shenhar, Levy, & Dvir, 1997, PMJ, 28(2) Wateridge, 1998, IJPM, 16(1) Lim & Mohamed, 1999, IJPM, 17(4) Atkinson, 1999, IJPM, 17(6) Baccarini, 1999, PMJ, 30(4) Diallo & Thuillier, 2004, IJPM, 22(1)
Table 5: Success factors.

Samples Used Investigators conducting empirical research on project success undoubtedly prefer a large sample certainly because of the dominant objectivist tradition (see Discussion and Conclusion). Although sample size varies from one study to another, it rarely has less than 30 subjects and often exceeds 100. Only one study draws from a sample of under 30 subjects (16 projects). The diversity of projects in the samples is also noteworthy. The projects are essentially in the fields of construction, information technologies, communications, research, and development. Even if the projects were undertaken by a wide variety of companies, they were mostly carried out in North America and Europe, and rarely in Africa or Asia. International development projects were quite rare; in fact, there was only one (Diallo & Thuillier, 2004), out of 30 articles! According to Themistocleous and Wearne (2000), there would be several reasons for this recurring observation, but the most important could very well be that the two journals, PMJ and IJPM, are published in the developed countries, and writers who hope to publish articles on development would be more drawn to journals specializing in development issues. Knowledge production on project success usually relies on information obtained from project managers, but investigators have also relied on many

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of frequencies, for example). Such statistics summarize project cost and project duration or classify project success criteria or project success factors by order of importance. One article, Wateridge (1998), produced only a frequency analysis. Because project success is multidimensional, multivariate statistical techniques have been widely used. Early on, particular attention was paid to multivariate analysis such as multiple linear regression and analysis of variance that used explanatory variables. Regression analysis dominated studies on project success until 1997 (accounting for 9 articles out of 14). This use of statistical analysis is undoubtedly not neutral: regression analysis is not only a statistical technique, but it is also a means to perceive a social reality (Abbott, 1988). The underlying idea is that the same causes should produce the same effects; project success factors, for example, are universal and transcend projects and project managers, and paying special attention to these success factors should, all other things being equal, logically lead to project success. Even if investigators do not, for the most part, appear to have abandoned regression analysis, beginning in 1997 we see a growing interest in the use of descriptive multivariate analysisin this case, factor analysisand, more precisely, principal components analyses (three articles). Descriptive multivariate analysis is used to reduce a table of data to several factors or constructs underlying the original variables that are often too numerous for correlation or regression analysis, which require a limited number of variables. Diallo and Thuillier (2004) used multinomial logistic regression to avoid the problems associated with normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity violations, which hamper multiple regression analysis. Professional Disciplines Given the multidisciplinary nature of projects, articles on project success

would obviously appear to be studied in project management, but it is also studied in construction, in information and communications technology management, and in research and development. This confirms the findings of Kloppenborg and Opfer (2002a, 2002b) in their assessment of the current state of research in project management. Based on a review of 3,554 articles, they found that studies on project management are most often conducted in construction and information systems settings (21% and 21%, respectively). As previously mentioned, international development is by and large neglected or under-represented.

Discussion and Conclusions

This article has analyzed articles on success from two scientific journals on project management, PMJ and IJPM. We have found that research on project success may very well be characterized by diversity except in epistemological and methodological perspectives: diversity in meanings given to the terms, in samples, and in techniques used in data collection and analysis. This finding matches quite well our expectations before the study and justifies our contribution. In fact, project success is an object of study that is inclusive, ambiguous, and multidimensional. It defies consensus on its definition and measurement. It should require different approaches to its study, but until now, the dominant line is the objectivist one. In our journey toward a comprehensive understanding of project success, one should not confuse any more between project management success and project success. Semantically, project management success refers to efficiency, an internal concern to the project team, and project success embraces concerns for efficiency and effectivenessin other words, all concerns, whether internal or external, short-term or long-term (Shenhar et al., 1997). Time and the measurability of specific project management objectives

provide some parameters for drawing a distinction between the concepts of project success and project management success. As Baccarini (1999) explained, the hard dimensions of a project (e.g., time, cost) are tangible, objective, and measurable, while the soft dimensions (e.g., stakeholders satisfaction) are subjective, subtle, and more difficult to measure (see Crawford & Pollack, 2004, for a discussion of hard and soft aspects of projects). The former dimensions are clearly tied to a project that has reached completion; hence, the tendency to measure project success by project management success (Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996). Obviously, from project managers point of views, the end of a project coincides with product or service delivery, and under this perspective there is no need to consider the downstream effects of a project (Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996; Wateridge, 1995, 1998). Project management success may ultimately lead to project success, but the opposite is not true: it is reasonable to assume that failure in project management may lead to project failure, except under fortuitous circumstances, but that the project can also fail despite successful project management. Ceteris paribus, project management success would be neither a necessary nor a satisfactory condition for project success. This is a troubling conclusion for project managers, who are often sacrificed at the altar of efficiency and effectiveness but also are obliged to face complexity. As pointed out by Hazebroucq (1993), because of the specific and complex nature of projects, project managers increasingly resemble travelers desperately trying to climb aboard a train: they are encumbered with heavy luggage and laden with documents and information (self translation). The last decades experienced a gradual understanding that project success requires broader definitions than project management success (Jugdev & Mller, 2005) despite the fact that this traditional triangle view of success is still prevailing (Turner, 1999). Most of

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

the researchers, although they recognize that there are other criteria for project success, would, in fact, attach more importance to the time/cost/ quality triangle (White & Fortune, 2002). As the emphasis is more and more put on the links between project, portfolio, and program (Bredillet, 2006; Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006; Jugdev & Mller, 2005; Shenhar et al., 2005), we envisage a trend toward project, portfolio, and program concerns in project success literature, as portrayed by Table 2. In fact, as Shenhar et al. (2005, p. 3) put it: Strategically managed projects are focused on achieving business results while operationally managed projects are focused on getting the job done. With this emphasis on project, portfolio, and program success, it is reasonable to expect that knowledge production on project success rely more on senior managers, project sponsors or owners and anyone involved in project selection and design. In the same vein, as much of the research is done in engineering, construction, and information technology, we think that this might have a bearing on the dominance of the triangle view of project success. Indeed, in the softer industries and the public sector where the emphasis on portfolio, and program management is high, it is safe to claim that the triangle view will shift toward one of project, portfolio and program success. In any case, if the triangle has reigned supreme, this is probably due to the fact that project management is not that mature in those sectors, and they have been copying from the older project-oriented, dominated industries. In particular, research on international development project success is overdue. Some comments are needed regarding the limits of this study. First, by only examining articles that appeared in two periodicals, we have disregarded work from other journals, even articles cited by authors published in PMJ and IJPM. Even though this may be a real limitation, however, it is the dividing line, albeit not always clear, between articles on project success (product success) and articles that consider success to be project management success. Confusion seems to persist between the project quality criterion and the client satisfaction criterion. There may not be a consensus on quality as strict compliance with functional and technical specifications. Another investigator could object, maintaining that quality is found in all the properties and characteristics of a product or service by which not only the clients explicit needs but also implicit needs can be satisfied. This definition, as proposed by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), clearly shows that there is not a clear demarcation between the project quality criterion and the client satisfaction criterion. Given the scope and fine distinction to be drawn in our notions about project success, it is also important to consider research approaches and avenues that would be worth exploring. Project success is such a rich concept, and the literature is so abundant that we cannot possibly have covered all its many characteristics. One research avenue that immediately comes to mind is extending our study and casting a wider net over management journals listed in the ABI/INFORM databasemore specifically, articles that show an interest in project management. Perhaps the most important line of research suggested by this study would be an examination of project success in terms of its multidimensional nature. This was suggested by Dvir, Lipovetsky, Shenhar, and Tishler (1998), who proposed abandoning fruitless research into universal success criteria and factors for a contingent approach to the study of project success. It is far from clear that success criteria and factors transcend projects and stakeholders in time and space, given the unique nature of projects and their specific management context. If the dominant paradigm used to understand project success is the time/cost/quality triangle, its limitations are now very clear. To reduce project success to project management success would be a vindication of the quantitative approach to studying project success. On the other hand, the idea that we could find an unequivocal means to measure success is nothing short of utopic. For Hazebroucq and Badot (1996, p. 37), the time/cost/quality triangle does not account for what Franois Jolivet, first Director General of the Channel Tunnel TransManche Link, called the breeder effect of a project, in which a project generates more total wealth than it consumes, in terms of human, financial, and technical resources, for all the actors, both internal and external, involved. Project management success is also a mechanistic vision of project success, in which actors seek Taylors one best way to do things. Fifty years later, the rhetoric behind the time/cost/quality triangle would appear to have created an unrealistic vision that may be better or worse (Atkinson, 1999), but under which the entire project is reduced to these three dimensions. In addition, research on CSFs, albeit the dominant line, has remained inconclusive (Fortune & White, 2006; Jugdev & Mller, 2005). It is time for authors to address the absence of empirical research about project success in different organizational contexts (Hyvri, 2006). Whatever meaning the authors we review give the term, project success is seen in terms of the projects predefined objectives, be they constraints of time, cost, quality, or satisfaction. Such a tautological perspective of projects suggests determinism, which is fundamental to the modern paradigm (Hazebroucq & Badot, 1996, p. 37). Project objectives therefore represent constraints on project managers and their promoters and serve as guidelines for evaluating success. However, the inherent ambiguity of project success and the lack of consensus on its definition, its measurement, and its softer aspects open up a third and significant avenue of research: the emergence of a subjectivist point of view and an ideographic and qualitative

14 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

Common Assumptions
Project success A universal set of criteria and CSF exists in practice.

Alternative 1: Contingent Approach

There is no one best way account for project success; only idiosyncratic criteria and CSFs exist for specific projects and contexts. Situational view of project success grounded in specific sets of criteria and CSFs. Research undertaken as unique or multiple case studies.

Alternative 2: Subjectivist Approach

Success and failure are not only subjectively perceived and constructed by people, but they are entwined in meaning and action. Subjectivist view of project success grounded in empirical narratives of success and failure. Research undertaken as comparative case studies. Project success as a social construct.

Aim of the research on project success

Objectivist view of project success grounded in ideal sets of criteria and CSF. Research undertaken as survey of large samples of projects. Project success framework as a universal tool for achieving goals and objectives.

Research metaphor for project success

Project success framework as a context-specific tool for achieving goals and objectives.

Table 7: Common and alternative assumptions on project success.

point of view. This may represent a clean break from current preoccupations, but it is worth exploring because it will probably shed some light on other less explored areas of research on project success. The objective would be to understand project success as it is perceived subjectively and as it is constructed by managers and other stakeholders. The research would involve in-depth interviews and would, for example, allow project actors to tell their professional life stories or talk about success factors. Are not words, by their very nature, infinitely richer than numbers? Does reliance on numbers not capture a social reality (the project) in a rigid structure, reducing the role of project managers to elements that are subject only to the influence of a group of more or less deterministic forces: project success factors? Building on the work by the Scandinavian school and especially by Packendorff (1995), who is very critical of the traditional project management research and, for that reason, suggests a change in metaphor from projects to temporary organizations, we argue that there are two alternatives to the recurring objectivist view of proj-

ect success found in the bulk of 30 articles covered in this analysis. The first one is termed contingent or situational, and the second one is called subjectivist. Table 7 summarizes the common assumptions and the alternative assumptions underlying research on project success, as well as a much more needed shift from the current metaphor to alternative metaphors. In the current traditional project success research, project success framework is seen as a universal tool for achieving goals and objectives. In contrast, in the contingent approach, project success framework is seen as a context-specific tool, whereas in the subjectivist approach, project success is considered a social construct (see Fincham [2002] for the last metaphor). The first two metaphors are grounded in the instrumental view of project success and in the tradition of natural sciences, where rationality, universality, objectivity, value-free decisionmaking, the possibility of generating law-like predictions, the belief in progressive, and cumulative character of knowledge are fundamental assumptions (Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006, p. 111). The third and last metaphor has its

intellectual roots not in the engineering science and applied mathematics like the first two but in the social sciences, such as sociology, organization theory, and psychology (Sderlund, 2004, p. 3). This change in metaphor in the research on project success leads to different research foci of the project success topic (summarized in Table 8). Instead of looking for a simplistic formula for measuring success and a universal list of CSFs that exist in practice and transcend projects and stakeholders in time and space, we argue that one should turn to context-specific and even symbolic and rhetoric project success criteria and CSFs. In this last case, success and failure are not seen as objective, discrete, polarized states or end points but as a complex double act entwined in meaning and action. They form an interactive discourse. They are narratives (i.e., they are like generic recurring themes across diverse stories; Fincham, 2002). Also in this subjectivist approach, one might welcome research on the cognitive aspects of project success and failure (see, for example, Robertson & Williams, 2006). Given the limits of the modern paradigm (Hazebroucq & Badot, 1996,

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

Research Metaphor Research Focus

Success criteria

Project Success Framework as a Universal Tool

A simplistic formula, unequivocal, easy to access, and agreed upon A universal list or grouping of CSFs that objectively exist in practice and transcend projects and stakeholders in time and space

Project Success Framework as a Context-Specific Tool

Context-specific measures of success for different projects and environments An idiosyncratic list or grouping of CSFs that objectively exist and vary according to projects and environments

Project Success Framework as a Social Construct

Symbolic and rhetoric evaluations of project success and failure Symbolic and rhetoric CSFs

Success factors

Table 8: Research foci of the project success topic in different metaphorical settings.

p. 50), one could imagine a postmodern view of projects and, by extension, project success. In this respect, the following remarks made by Doug DeCarlo (cited by Thomsett, 2002, p. 21) are very instructive: project managers suffer from a Newtonian neurosis, a sort of pathological need to bring structures to projects. What is needed is a quantum view of the world in which chaos, change, uncertainty, and relaxation of control are accepted as a means of gaining control. More important, we need to rethink projects and reconsider the very definition of project management, even if that is beyond the scope of this work. Turners (1996) remarks should not leave anyone indifferent: Project management is the art and science of converting vision into reality. But will this definition be acceptable to all parties?

project success. Project Management Journal, 18(2), 6979. Atkinson, R. (1999). Project management: Cost, time and quality, two best guesses and a phenomenon, its time to accept other criteria. International Journal of Project Management, 17, 337342. Baccarini, D. (1999). The logical framework method for defining project success. Project Management Journal, 30(4), 2532. Baker, B. N., Murphy, D. C., & Fisher, D. (1974). Factors affecting project success. In D. I. Cleland & W. R. King (Eds.), Project management handbook (pp. 902919). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Beale, P & Freeman, M. (1991). Success., ful project execution: A model. Project Management Journal, 22(4), 2330. Belassi, W., & Tukel, O. I. (1996). A new framework for determining critical success/failure factors in projects. International Journal of Project Management, 14, 141151. Belout, A. (1998). Effects of human resource management on project effectiveness and success: Toward a new conceptual framework. International Journal of Project Management, 16, 2126. Belout, A., & Gauvreau, C. (2004). Factors influencing project success:

The impact of human resource management. International Journal of Project Management, 22, 111. Bredillet, C. N. (2006, October). Investigating the future of project management: A co-word analysis. Paper presented at the IRNOP conference in Xian, China. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary. (1998). Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press. Cicmil, S., & Hodgson, D. (2006). New possibilities for project management theory: A critical engagement. Project Management Journal, 37(3), 111122. Clarke, A. (1999). A practical use of key success factors to improve the effectiveness of project management. International Journal of Project Management, 17, 139145. Cooke-Davies, T. (2002). The real success factors on projects. International Journal of Project Management, 20, 185190. Crawford, L., & Pollack, J. (2004). Hard and soft projects: A framework for analysis. International Journal of Project Management, 22, 645653. de Wit, A. (1988). Measurement of project success. Project Management Journal, 6(3), 164170. Diallo, A., & Thuillier, D. (2004). The success dimensions of international

I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of PMJ for their helpful comments and Professor Pierre Cossette of UQAM for his great comments. I also extend my thanks to Michael Hougham of Henley Management College.

Abbott, A. (1988). Transcending general linear reality. Sociological Theory, 6, 169186. Ashley, D. B., Lurie, C. S., & Jaselskis, E. J. (1987). Determinants of construction

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development projects: The perceptions of African project coordinators. International Journal of Project Management, 22, 1931. Dvir, D., Lipovetsky, S., Shenhar, A., & Tishler, A. (1998). In search of project classification: A non-universal approach to project success factors. Research Policy, 27, 915935. Dvir, D., Raz, T., & Shenhar, A. (2003). An empirical analysis of the relationship between project planning and project success. International Journal of Project Management, 21, 8995. Finch, P. (2003). Applying the SlevinPinto project implementation profile to an information systems project. Project Management Journal, 34(3), 3239. Fincham, R. (2002). Narratives of success and failure in systems development. British Journal of Management, 13, 114. Fortune, J., & White, D. (2006). Framing of project critical success factors by a systems model. International Journal of Project Management, 24, 5365. Freeman, M., & Beale, P. (1992). Measuring project success. Project Management Journal, 23(1), 817. Hazebroucq, J.-M. (1993). Les facteurs cls de succs dans le management de projets. Revue Internationale en Management et Gestion de Projets, 1(1), 2740. Hazebroucq, J.-M., & Badot, O. (1996). Le management de projet. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Henderson, L. S. (2004). Encoding and decoding communication competencies in project managementAn exploratory study. International Journal of Project Management, 22, 469476. Hubbard, D. G. (1990). Successful utility project management lessons learned. Project Management Journal, 21(3), 1923. Hyvri, I. (2006). Success of projects in different organizational conditions.

Project Management Journal, 37(4), 3141. Jang, Y., & Lee, J. (1998). Factors influencing the success of management consulting projects. Project Management Journal, 16(2), 6772. Jiang, J. J., Klein, G., & Balloun, J. (1996). Ranking of system implementation success factors. Project Management Journal, 27(4), 4953. Jugdev, K., & Mller, R. (2005). A retrospective look at our evolving understanding of project success. Project Management Journal, 36(4), 1931. Kloppenborg, T. J., & Opfer, W. A. (2002a). Correspondence. Project Management Journal, 33(4), 7172. Kloppenborg, T. J., & Opfer, W. A. (2002b). The current state of project management research: Trends, interpretations, and predictions. Project Management Journal, 33(2), 518. Lidow, D. (1999). Duck alignment theory: Going beyond classic project management to maximize project success. Project Management Journal, 30(4), 814. Lim, C. S., & Mohamed, M. Z. (1999). Criteria of project success: An explanatory re-examination. International Journal of Project Management, 17, 243248. Munns, A. K., & Bjeirmi, B. F. (1996). The role of project management in achieving project success. International Journal of Project Management, 14, 8187. OShaugnessy, W. (1992). La faisabilit de projet. Une dmarche vers lefficience et lefficacit. Trois-Rivires: Les ditions SMG. Packendorff, J. (1995). Inquiring into temporary organisation: New directions for project management research. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11, 319333. Paek, J. H. (1995). Critical success factors of the construction management service in the dual-role contract. Project Management Journal, 26(4), 2328.

Pinto, J. K., & Slevin, D. P. (1988a). Project success: Definitions and measurement techniques. Project Management Journal, 19(1), 6772. Pinto, J. K., & Slevin, D. P. (1988b). Critical success factors across the project life cycle. Project Management Journal, 19(3), 6774. Robertson, S., & Williams, T. (2006). Understanding project failure: Using cognitive mapping in an insurance project. Project Management Journal, 37(4), 5571. Shenhar, A., & Dvir, D. (1996). Toward a typological theory of project management. Research Policy, 25, 607632. Shenhar, A., Dvir, D., Guth, W., Lechler, T., Panatakul, P., Poli, M., et al. (2005). Project strategy: The missing link. Paper accepted to Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Shenhar, A., Levy, O., & Dvir, D. (1997). Mapping the dimensions of project success. Project Management Journal, 28(2), 513. Slevin, D. P., & Pinto, J. K. (1986). The project implementation profile: New tool for project managers. Project Management Journal, 17(4), 5770. Sderlund, J. (2004). Building theories of project management: Past research, questions for the future. International Journal of Project Management, 22, 183191. Tan, R. R. (1996). Success criteria and success factors for external technology transfer projects. Project Management Journal, 27(2), 4556. Themistocleous, G., & Wearne, S. H. (2000). Project management topic coverage in journals. International Journal of Project Management, 18, 711. Thomsett, R. (2002). Radical project management. New York: Yourdon Press. Turner, J. R. (1996). Editorial: International Project Management Association global qualification, certification and accreditation. International Journal of Project Management, 14, 16.

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Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

Turner, J. R. (1999). Editorial: Project management: A profession based on knowledge or faith. International Journal of Project Management, 17, 329330. Wateridge, J. (1995). IT projects: A basis for success. International Journal of Project Management, 13, 169172. Wateridge, J. (1998). How can IS/IT projects be measured for success? International Journal of Project Management, 16, 5963. Wells, W. G. (1998). From the editor. Project Management Journal, 29(4), 46. Westerveld, E. (2003). The project excellence model: Linking success criteria and critical success factors. International Journal of Project Management, 21, 411418. White, D., & Fortune, J. (2002). Current practice in project managementAn empirical study. International Journal of Project Management, 20, 111. Outaouais (UQO), Canada. He holds an MSc in project management. He is about to complete his PhD in business administration with a specialization in international development PM at Universit du Qubec Montral, a joint program with three other Montreal universitiesConcordia, HEC, and McGill. His PhD dissertation is focused on studying the key success criteria and factors for international development projects from the perspective of the World Bank Task Managers and National Project Coordinators. His research interests include the study of project, program, and portfolio management in nontraditional settings such as international development.

Lavagnon A. Ika is a professor of project management (PM) in the Department of Administrative Sciences at the Universit du Qubec en

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APPENDIX: Selection of the Journals and the Articles

A quick review of the notices generated by ABI/INFORM after the query revealed that the issue of project success was addressed in a variety of journals, including Information Technology & People, AACE International Transactions, Research Policy, and, of course, PMJ and IJPM. The last two scientific journals, considered the authoritative sources in English on project management (Themistocleous & Wearne, 2000), have published 15 of the 56 preliminary best articles candidates, approximately 27%, to appear between 1960 and 1999. (They were felt to be so on a subjective basis without an attempt to define what a seminal or even best article should

entail. There may be other articles that deserve to be on any best article list [Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002b, p. 14]). Given that 89% of the articles reviewed were published in the 1980s and 1990s, compared to 1% in the 1960s (Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002a, 2002b), we decided to limit our review to articles published in PMJ or IJPM and only consider articles from the period beginning in 1980. Articles dealing with project control that simply made reference to the concept of project success were removed from the list. The decision to keep a notice turned on an analysis of the notices content. As a result, we kept only those articles in which both the title and the keywords included terms from the research statement or the

qualifier successful. Hence, articles with titles such as Current Practice in Project ManagementAn Empirical Study, where the title does not explicitly mention project success but the list of keywords and the summary mentioned project success criteria, were rejected. However, some exceptions were made to this rule. Articles dealing with the PIP (project implementation profile), an instrument that deals explicitly with project success, were retained, even if their titles did not include the terms success or successful. Given the fact that certain articles could have rather general keywords or none at all (Themistocleous & Wearne, 2000), we decided, in this case, to consider only their titles during the selection process.

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj