Project Management Success Factors:
Common Failures & How to Avoid Them
There are many factors and conditions that determine whether your project will be successful, or not. Learn how to avoid project failure factors and how to implement project management success factors that can propel your team to success.
Following some critical success factor examples and learning project success factors can help you gain a better understanding of how effective project managers plan, communicate, manage risk, and successfully close projects.
Critical Success Factor Examples in Project Management
Project management covers several factors that are critical to project success, including project service automation (PSA). These factors are typically referred to as Key Results Areas (KRAs) or Critical Success Factors (CSFs). CSFs are activities that adhere to a high standard of quality, help you meet your project goals, and help you prioritize your tasks to meet your projected goals.
When implemented correctly, CSFs make it clear which steps your team needs to tackle first, and what they should pay close attention to. They also allow for better collaboration between the members of your team. Some critical success factor examples include:
Before starting a project take the time to sit down for an extensive planning session, define your performance targets, come to a consensus about what a completed project looks like, and finalize your plan with your clients. Incorrect planning at project initiation may cause you to miss underlying issues or details that will cause problems further down the road.
It’s tempting to get caught up in new technology or methods and overlook the strategic goal of the company and why you’re doing the project in the first place. Focus on best practices for project management first and build your strategy from there.
The best project management success factors will fail without proper communication. Having candid and insightful conversations will increase buy-in from shareholders and employees alike. Take initiative and bring up any issues that arise with the project. Don’t leave it until the client points it out.
Forget the buzzwords and offer concrete solutions to your clients with measurable benchmarks, performance targets, and a straightforward path to success.
Thanks to online networking, maintaining connections and reaching out to other professionals has never been easier. As project managers, you should implement collaboration right from the start during the planning stage. Teams that collaborate have better plans in place and better engagement as they work toward project success. Successful collaboration also involves acting in unison and tracking the project, so everyone stays on the same page.
Collaborative Project Management
The practices of collaborative project management help all team members to fully engage and contribute in a meaningful way to a successful project outcome. Critically, the practices also provide guidance for new and ‘accidental project managers’ who lack formal project management training.
It is best to have the team who will deliver the project involved in planning. The quality of the resulting plan will be better and the engagement of all team members will be higher.
It is very desirable to have the team act in unison on the project. We all want our project teams to know what is happening and to know what they have to do to ensure the project success.
The extended team (project manager, team members, senior executives, customers, etc.) will need to track what is happening and not happening on the project in order to constructively contribute to the project outcome.
Main Causes of Project Failure
Projects fail to reach completion on time, within budget, or within scope for a variety of reasons. While not all of them are directly the fault of the project manager, an experienced, well-prepared project manager can implement planning and promote project management success factors that ensure a project doesn’t fall apart. Here are some project failure factors to avoid as a project manager.
Failure to Plan Effectively
Although it’s an obvious step, effective planning is a project management success factor that simply can’t be overlooked. Effective project planning involves writing out your plan and setting a realistic time frame, estimating costs, determining milestones, documenting deliverables, and defining project scope. One way to help you plan effectively is to utilize a project management platform to keep you organized. Thorough planning ensures you make your deadlines, stay organized, and stay within your budget.
Disregarding Risk Management
When it comes down to it, we all know that projects don’t go as planned and regularly fail. If you don’t plan for setbacks you are asking for disaster. Create a risk log with an action plan and keep it in a location where your team members and stakeholders have access to it. Keeping all your information in a central database will allow your team members to easily find information and help bring new members up to speed on projects. Having a solid risk management plan in place will also allow you to take immediate action if you see the warning signs of failure headed your way.
Inadequate Scope Document
An inadequate scope document, or complete lack of a scope document, is a huge project failure factor—and it’s more common than you may think. A full 75% of IT executives think their projects are doomed from day one because of constantly shifting scope. Project managers are responsible for handling scope changes to projects and asking whether the changes are necessary. When the scope of a project changes—and it will—project managers will also need to consider how it may affect the timeline and budget of the finalized project and may need to approach the client to adjust the budget accordingly.
Ultimately, defining your project’s scope is something that should be accomplished during the planning and goal setting stage of your project with a scope document. Defining how you will handle scope changes and how you will track them will help keep everyone on the same page when things inevitably change.
Not Selecting the Right People
While it’s the responsibility of your resource and recruiting departments to find the right people for the job, as a project manager, it is your responsibility to assign the right tasks to the right people and ensure you have a cohesive team. Assign team members to roles where they will excel and use your central resources to help keep everyone on the same page while you and your team pursue your project to completion. Projects can experience difficulty or setbacks at any time, and if your team is not structured effectively it will make your role as project manager significantly harder.
Lack of Communication
Poor communication leads to disaster and is a major project failure factor. As a project manager, you are responsible for keeping your team well-informed, creating transparency, and encouraging team members to share their suggestions or concerns. When you’re working on a project, sticking to your timetable is essential for success. Proper communication between leaders and team members helps keep everyone informed on the progress of the project and leaves little doubt as to what is required of each member.
If you have struggled with communication on your teams in the past, be sure to implement a communication plan when you create your project plan, to avoid issues from the start. Find a communication channel that works well for your team and stakeholders, and record past communications and errors so you can avoid them in the future. Don’t let your project fall apart simply because you failed to communicate effectively.
No Management Support
Before you ever start your project, make sure you have management support and buy-in. Projects that fail to have the support of management may never get approved, and even if they do, with little management support the project is much more likely to fail. This project failure factor is often caused by unclear project goals and a failure to define the value it adds or problem it solves for the business. If you can’t define the value your project brings, it will be difficult to get sufficient funds allocated to the project. Additionally, other ongoing projects that require management support may also make it more difficult for a particular project to get the financial backing it needs because resources are dedicated to other areas and projects.
Weak Project Closure
Projects are not meant to drag on forever and they will drain your resources if you don’t establish a set of parameters for project closure. Finalizing a project involves establishing an agreement with your clients that you met the critical success factors for the project and the project has been delivered, tested, and released according to client satisfaction. You might even ask your clients to complete a satisfaction survey to get feedback and help finalize the project further.
Make sure you know what done looks like and establish milestones that will help you keep track of how a project is progressing. This will also keep you abreast of any issues or delays as they happen and will let you know whether the project will be completed on time, long before the final deadline. Another best practice for closing projects is to take care of the difficult aspects of the project as soon as possible. Don’t wait until crunch time to tackle a mountain of work that could have been done earlier.
Evaluate the Success of a Project
Before you throw in the towel and admit defeat, or cheer your success (it’s not all doom and gloom), take a look at your project and evaluate whether or not it actually was successful. In order to fully evaluate the success of any project, there are several specifics you should review so you can understand where you did well and where you can improve project performance in the future.
This project management success factor is very important to review once a project is completed. Did you stay within the scope of your project? If your scope changed, what changed, and how did you handle and track those changes? Assess your project scope success against your intended result to see if you were successful in this area.
Determining whether you met your budget for a project involves tracking your spending as well as your time. Taking longer on a project will push you over budget and may require you to bring in more expensive resources to complete the project. Also make sure to ask yourself if you overspent and if you overspent, how much were you over? Be honest with yourself in your evaluation so you can determine where you failed to evaluate you went off budget and how to prevent it in the future.
Again, this point is straightforward. Compare your initial schedule to your final timeline to know if you successfully delivered your project on time. One way to ensure this project success factor is to update your schedule weekly during the project to make sure you’re on track.
This project management success factor helps you gain insight into how your team, customers, and stakeholders felt about the project. Do they have additional insight? Were they happy with the results? Were they fully supportive of the project? Take the time to find out.
Once your project is finally complete you’re probably ready to move on to the next one (if you haven’t already). You can turn out tons of projects, but if the quality isn’t up to par, then your customer satisfaction is likely to be very low. Take some time to evaluate how smooth your project delivery was, and whether the final work met the expectations of your clients and shareholders.
Following these project management success factors and avoiding project failure factors will help project managers as they work with their teams, leaders, and shareholders to achieve project success.
For any given project there are a number of things that can go wrong. Don’t let yourself get trapped by these common project failure factors. Instead, focus on success through correct implementation and planning with project success factors and utilize critical success factor examples as you work towards project completion—on time and within budget!