Top Ten Project Success Factors

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

We’ve studied hundreds of projects and mined ideas from organizational leaders, academicians, and even people who have sat next to us on airplanes. Based on our intentional and ad hoc research, we have identified 10 factors that increase the likelihood a project will be successful.

Our Top Ten:

1. Clear and shared purpose and goals. Everyone involved must agree on the answer to the question “Why are we doing this?”

2. Motivated project team and stakeholders. The project must seem important to people, and the idea of being involved must be engaging. You don’t need extra financial incentives. People will flock to an attractive project.

3. Unfailing customer orientation. This means, first, getting everyone to agree about who the customer is and what the customer wants, and keeping this in the forefront as the project proceeds.

4. Adequate support and resources. This usually starts with the big boss. You need his or her support to legitimize your project. And, if you don’t think you have enough resources, rethink project scope, have a tactful conversation with the sponsor, and hone your skills of influence.

5. Clear roles and responsibilities. If team members don’t know who does what, nothing will get done. Important role discussions are more likely to occur early in the project if team members are actively engaged in the planning process.

6. Attention to planning. Need we say more? “Ready, fire, aim” doesn’t work.

7. Effective management of uncertainty. Don’t sit by idly waiting for surprises to emerge; anticipate and prepare.

8. Continuous, effective communication. The word “communication” has become a bit of a cliché, but if you don’t share information and engage in active listening with your entire network of stakeholders, your plans will almost certainly become derailed.

9. Effective scope management and change control. Be diligent. Projects get off track for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes changes are necessary, but often they introduce nuisances that detract from the project’s goals.

10. Leadership. Every project needs a central individual who takes responsibility. Shared leadership rarely works. For more on this topic, see our posting, “The Project Leader’s Balancing Act,” on this web site.

For more information about project success factors, see Brown and Hyer, Managing Projects: A Team-Based Approach, McGraw-Hill, 2010. To purchase a copy of our book, click here