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Papers > Project Futures

Success in future projects

Adam A P Roberts

Abstract: (2013) “Only 30% of the government's technology-based projects are a success.” This suggests that 70% of them fail. Many associations and institutions are constantly reviewing different methodologies to increase the success rate of projects, with varied results. ‘Prince 2’ a methodology which is predominantly required for use in government technology-based projects, by nature of it’s name, suggests that there have been 2 previous unsuccessful attempts at creating a methodology that will increase the success rate of projects.

Increasing pressure is being mounted on both the private and the public sector businesses to deliver projects for lower cost and in shorter timescales without compromising on quality. There is heightened media coverage on the more prominent projects, for example the 2012 Olympic games, and with introduction of the Internet and social networking, it is increasingly easier to communicate success or failure to a large audience.  

The future of project management lies with the ability of the organisation to adapt to their perpetually changing environment. The project manager will require a clear and transparent strategic objective in order to increase the percentage of successful projects.

Word Count: 5028

Key Words: Success, People, Successful


If a project is delivered on time, in budget and delivers 100% of the specified scope, can this project possibly be deemed as a failure? The answer is yes, take the Millennium Dome in London, this project was completed on time, in budget and to scope, but was deemed a total failure by the media for years after completion. In the same respect, can a project that is over budget, over time and does not deliver the specified scope be deemed a success? The answer to this is also yes, the London Underground railway was opened 150 years ago in 1863, it ran over budget, it was delivered later than originally planned and the scope was perpetually changing; the London Underground is now the largest Underground railway network in the Western world and is considered a tremendous success.

This paper will demonstrate that success or failure simply depends on who is asking and when the question is asked, as in the Millennium Dome; depending on when the question is asked would depend on whether or not the project can be deemed a success or a failure.

This paper will demonstrate that managing projects is not all about the processes and procedures and that if the Project Manager is to increase his chances of managing a successful project, he will require a strategic approach to his management and leadership style. It highlights the fact that a project can be deemed a success at one stage and soon after be deemed a failure (and visa versa), it also highlights the fact that the same project may be deemed a success by one group of Stakeholders and deemed a failure by another.

The paper goes on to identify that individual’s working on a project may see the project success criteria differently and that, what one person deems a success may seem like a failure to another. Although benefit realisation may seem like the obvious method to determine project success or failure, it is discussed how different personalities may not have the same interpretation to the magnitude of the benefit, for example and accountant would be looking for a financial benefit and a Doctor would be looking for a health benefit. A project could deliver a vaccination for a third world country that would have little financial benefit for the company producing the solution, thus the accountant would deem the project a failure and the doctor would look to the number of lives saved and deem the project a success. The same project delivering the same vaccine at a much higher cost, would prevent third world distribution, but could be sold in the more affluent Western world making the production company a higher rate of return, would no doubt be deemed a success by the accountant, but as many lives would be lost due to the lack of vaccine in the third world, the Doctor would possibly deem the same project a failure.  

Text books, white papers and websites have been reviewed and discussed throughout this paper, with the focus on offering a progressive tactic for the successful management of projects in the future, many authors have speculated methods and structures that can be implemented that would have a positive impact on future projects.

Interviews were conducted with project management professionals with the view to determine where they see the profession being focused in the future. This discussion became focussed on project success, as it was understood by all individuals involved that project management would have to succeed for it to grow and progress.

The time, cost and quality triangle is reviewed in more detail and a further 4th dimension to this diagram is introduced, suggesting that without more attention being given to the people involved in the project that the projects may find it more difficult to succeed.

On further scrutiny it is realised that all persons involved in the project have a stake in its success and that all of these people are key success factors. It is suggested that a detailed people management plan (robust stakeholder management plan) be created to allow for the Project Manager to be able to forecast a successful outcome, allowing for future strategies to be put in place.


The Association for Project Managers (UK) defines a project as, “a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives.” APM <09/10/2012, 16h13>

On further review, it is evident that there are many interpretations and definitions of what a project might be.  A paper written by Heathcote J. & (2010) Cohort BSc (Hons) has quoted texts which included, GeoffReiss suggests that“Project management is about tackling new ground, taking a group of people and trying to achieve some very clear objective quickly and efficiently.” According to Rory Burke (2006), “The project manager must do whatever is required to make the project happen)They also refer to Barbara Allan (2004), “…involves using a range of management skills and techniques to successfully carry out a project

Heathcote (2010) goes on to say, “A project might be usefully described as ‘goal focussed’ work that employs a ‘systems’ approach and typically perceives contributors as part of a ‘team’.  It is predicated on rationale decision making”

The term ‘Business as usual’ was reviewed, and in contrast with a project this was defined as “The normal execution of standard functional operations within an organisation” Wiki <09/10/2012, 16h41>

Kerzner PH.D. (2009) p.56 States that; “Project management may now be defined as the process of achieving project objectives through the traditional organisational structure and over the specialties of the individuals concerned.” Morris (1997) p.219 states that; “A Project will be in great danger of encountering serious problems if its objectives, standards, technical base and general strategic planning are inadequately considered or poorly developed”

Gardiner (2005) p.201 goes on to say;“If a Critical success factor is not addressed, the project fails”.This could be interpreted to suggest that project’s, should have a clear success criteria in order to be able to measure the success or failure of a project.  Kerzner (2009) also talks about how success criteria has been measured in the past, or at least how it was deemed to be measured, by suggesting that the time, cost and quality triangle determined the success or failure of a project. Kerzner PH.D. (2009) p.60 “Historically, the definition of success has been meeting the customer’s expectations regardless of whether or not the customer is internal or external. Success also includes getting the job done within the constraints of time, cost and quality.”Other literary reviews would suggest a similar thought, with Lock (2007) p.17 stating that; “…These three objectives (time, performance and cost) are traditionally the basic parameters for measuring project success or failure”

Terry Cooke-Davies (2002) Paper on success draws on two distinctions of which measuring against overall objectives with Project management success and measuring against time, cost and quality. The second distinction that he talks about is the difference between success criteria and success factors. In his paper he makes the point that the answers to these questions will strongly depend upon which question is being asked. “…What factors are critical to project management success? What factors are critical to success on an individual project? What factors lead to consistently successful projects?”

Lock (2007) p.17 goes on to say that although time, cost and quality may feel good to deliver, even if a project is delivered to these parameters, it still might not be enough to ensure project success. “… a customer who subsequently discovers that the project fails to live up to its initial promise and does not deliver its expected return on investment will perceive the result as a failure

Lechler (1998) makes the point that recent studies identify the human element as playing a key role in project success; “More recent literature focuses on the human factor issues in project management” and Gray (2001)establishes a clear association between project outcomes and the social and management climate in which those projects are implemented.

Gardiner (2005) however seems to lean towards a similar conclusion where he talks about a common misconception of having a strategy in comparison to the actual execution of the plan (presumably by people); “What usually determines the success or failure of an organization is not how brilliant the strategy is, but how well the plans are executed.

Morris (1997) p.180 offered a different approach at looking at projects when he talks about BOO(T) – Build Own Operate (-Transfer); where he suggests that this approach “…raises a different question in the management of projects: a question perhaps of project effectiveness rather than efficiency” He goes on to say that with BOO(T), the project participants are in it for the long haul and will therefore have a different set of success factors. Completion to time, cost and quality will not be sufficient due to there being additional factors to consider, such as the social, technical & financial outcome of the project over a longer period of time, in other words looking at the longevity of the project success and not just short term.

Perhaps Kerzner’s definition of failure, in contradiction, is the best way to define project success, here he clearly points out that if you are not getting what you expected then you have not succeeded in delivering a successful project. Kerzner PH.D. (2009) p.63 “The true definition of failure is when the final results are not what were expected” This notion being broadened in the Wong (2012) interview, where Wong has the view that success in a project will have a different meaning, depending on whom it is that you are asking. Tony Wong (2012) “Every person, from the project manager to the CEO, has a different idea of what success means—and often that's why teams don't get projects done efficiently” - It would therefore suggest that although all participants may have a different idea of success, if each individual does not achieve their own specific success criteria as well as the organisational success criteria that the Project in itself would not be successful to that individual, however this would not necessarily mean that the project has failed.  


An informal interview process was created where by 5 individual project professionals were asked to join in a relaxed ‘out of work’ environment to discuss their interpretations of what determines project success and failure. The 5 individuals were not informed that there was any format to the questions, nor were they informed that any research was being conducted. They were all however made aware post interview that their input would be included in this paper.

The interviewer started by asking each individual on their interpretation of project success and as the question was answered, so followed a discussion by the group, the discussions were then steered into the direction of what they, as an individual, would view as a successful project and finally what they thought would be viewed as a successful project by their employers. 

This relaxed non formal method was used to allow for individuals to participate openly and to offer answers and discussions that they thought and believed to be correct, and not what they thought they were suppose to believe to be correct.

The interview lasted for a little over four hours with some key points being extrapolated from the discussions.

A further 4 project professionals were interviewed in a similar manner at a separate time 

All individuals that were used in the interviews, work within a project environment within the rail industry in or around London UK.  


All individuals responded with the similar answers to the first question, stating that on condition that the project was delivered in time and on budget, that the project should be deemed a success.

On further discussion and when the question was posed to each individual as to what would they regard as a successful project, the responses varied, however there were still some responses that seemed to be repeated with a similar outcome: A successful project would be a project that was completed in accordance with the clients requirements, for example if the client required the project to be completed by a specific date or if a specific requirement was needed to be achieved and it was achieved within the specified criteria, then they would consider the project a success. This seemed to be the rationale in some form amongst all individuals that were interviewed – in short; “If the client is happy, then we have succeeded”

It should also be noted that, all but one of the individuals interviewed were employed on a contract basis, and that their future employment for working on further projects is determined by securing further contracts within the industry, and thus these individuals would need to ensure that the senior members of the business were satisfied with their work output in order to strengthen their chances of future employment.

The final question, which one would assume would have the same answer as the first question, was raised. What each individual thought would be considered a successful project, by their employer.  The responses to this question were also varied with none of the interviewees answering Time, cost and quality. The responses now existed of what they thought that the business wanted to achieve from the completion of the project. Each individual started considering what benefit the project was supposed to deliver and as long as that benefit was delivered, any late delivery or over spend, would soon have been forgotten, or at least would be outweighed by the delivery of the benefit. The consideration of quality was debated, with 3 of the individuals believing that on condition the project benefit was achieved that a reduction in quality was acceptable.

After further discussion regarding the quality factor, it was generally considered, that on condition the project delivered the projected benefit and was safe; that any quality issues would not affect the project success, as these issues could easily be actioned during Business as Usual, and on condition the project delivered the benefit that the project would have succeeded.

It should be noted that not all individuals interviewed were currently working on the same project, however they do all work within the same industry and for the same client, therefore a similar success criteria could have been expected.   


The literature review’s all tend to lean toward similar conclusions, although time cost and quality still plays a role in the success of a project, all the literature that has been reviewed does not conclude that this in itself outlines the success factors of any given project.

Terry Cooke-Davies (2002) suggests in his paper on; the ‘real’ success factors on projects; that the answer would differ depending on the specific question that is being asked, he goes on to say “To bridge this divide, it is necessary to bring into play the interests of those who established the project (the stakeholders)” This could be interpreted to suggest that project success mean’s something completely different to the project manager, than it means to the key stakeholder. This was certainly the case in the small test group that were interviewed for this paper.

It could be suggested that project success is determined by the people associated to the project and that the collaboration of these people, from the top right down to the labourer on site, was key to the success of the project. This may sound like it is a contradiction to the traditional time, cost and quality success criteria; but on closer scrutiny it could be deemed as an enhancement. The people factor will ensure that a project completes on time, within the specified budget and to a standard that is acceptable to all stakeholders. The people factor will not, however ensure that the project delivers the benefit.

Cooke-Davies (2002) explains this further by the use of a diagram depicting the benefit delivery or realisation requiring the action of the operations management and not the project manager. He then suggests that this would “call for a close co-operation between the project team on the one hand and the ‘sponsor’ or ‘customer’ on the other.

The Association for Project Managers (APM) detail in their lifecycle in the APM BoK (5th Edition) that benefit realisation forms part of the extended project lifecycle, which would suggest that there is a definite attempt to bridge the ‘gap’ between the stakeholder and the project team.

In affirmation of both Cooke-Davies and the APM, Kerzner (2009) p.366 points out that: Success is determined (or measured) by all people involved, in the project and not just the project management team. “Project success is often measured by the actions of three groups, the project manager & team, the parent organisation and the customers organisation

Kerzner (2009) goes on to create an extremely detailed action list for the project team to work to in order to strengthen the possibility of project success and therefore lessen the possibility of failure. Emphasis is placed on communication and reliance on structure and procedures. He does go on to say that the parent organisation should work with the project manager and allow him to “make the important decisions in conjunction with key team members” which would suggest that he believes that strong communications within the organisation is the first step toward project success.

Both Cooke-Davies (2002) and Kerzner (2009) seem to be making a similar point and that is that Project success is viewed differently, depending on who is asking?

If we are only to look at these factors to determine the success criteria of an individual standalone project’s success, i.e. did the project deliver to time, cost and quality and if all senior identified stakeholders deem the project a success with benefits being realised. The success criteria is simple, however looking deeper there are many other elements to project success that have yet to be identified.   

Gray (2001) points out that the time cost and quality approach may be too simple and a more complex approach may be required to gain a clear understanding to project success. “This acknowledges that the often cited time-cost-scope triangle is too simple to represent interacting objectives of most projects and that the personal objectives and feeling of the people involved must also be taken into account

The project success criteria seems to be moving toward ensuring that all people involved with the project and all people that are to be involved with the running of “Business as Usual Factor” of the completed project, are satisfied with the what has been delivered.

Lock (2007) p.24 similarly points out that all staff working on a project, from the workforce to the tier 2 sub contractor have a stake in the project and that the outcome of the project will have a definite effect on their future, thus successful project to them would mean that they have been successful in their part of the delivery. “Staff working on a project has a stake in the outcome because project success or failure can (apart from contributing to job satisfaction) have profound implications for their future employment and careers.”

This could be said about everyone working on each phase of the project, from initialisation to the benefit realisation.

Both Lock (2007) and Gardiner (2005) are bringing in a further element to the equation, the people element being a dynamic element that is difficult to measure. Some of these people could be deemed “tier two” stakeholders and are, as important as the tier one stakeholders when it comes to the success of the project and the management of the project.

In this respect “tier two” stakeholders would include:

·      Team members

·      Sub contractors

·      Suppliers

·      Consultants

·      Work force

When determining project success, the question should be asked if each project should be viewed as an individual stand alone initiative, with a single goal and one single-minded project team? If this were so, project success would be a lot simpler to define, as it would and could be determined by a finite group of individuals with no future projects or similar projects to consider. However project success and indeed project management success relies on many factors all of which will differ from one project to the next, but are interlinked between departments, projects, programmes, organisations, tier one and two contractors or moreover - People.

What makes one project succeed could very easily make another fail, however according to the literature that has been reviewed for this paper, there are some factors that will always have a positive impact on a project, namely time, cost and quality (even though these three elements may not determine the success of the project they will surely have a positive impact). It seems now that there is a 4th element being suggested, that being the element of people. Both Lock (2007) and Gardiner (2005) suggest that this element is important with Lock placing the people factor in the centre of his triangle of objectives.


It can only be suggested that the main factors contributing to the success of a project be Cost, Quality, Time and the People involved, however the factors that contribute to the success of the project could be deemed as achieving or exceeding the businesses expectation.

The world of project management is constantly evolving with the project team taking on more and more responsibility for the success and failure of the project, project managers are now not only managing the physical work (tasks) required to complete the project to ensure success, but the project manager now takes on the commercial, planning and more recently the role of ensuring that the benefit’s, that the Project has been designed to deliver, are kept in focus at all times.

The success of a project is no longer “black and white” as many factors influence how successful a project has been and whether or not the project has succeeded or failed.

It is evident that each project will not only have its own success factors, but the success factor that could ensure the success of one project could easily also determine the failure of another. For example when the USA were trying to put a man on the moon the success factor was to ensure that this happened prior to the Russians achieving the same goal. Over 40 years later the USA have embarked on a similar project to return a man to the moon, however this time, the time factor will no longer determine whether or not the project is a success.

Likewise a project manager may deliver a project within time, budget, to a high quality specification and deliver the expected organisational benefits, but the project may be deemed a failure depending on who it is that is reviewing the project. For example: The Millennium Dome (O2 Arena), may have been deemed a failure by the contractor or even by the sponsor, and in fact the media deemed this project a failure for years after delivery, however 12 years on and the Millennium Dome, which has been renamed to ‘The O2 Arena’, is now deemed the most successful arena in the world. This could be attributed to the post project strategy that would have needed to be put in place in order to change the public opinion that the government had spent a lot of cash on a ‘White Elephant’  

The people factor cannot be measured by any conventional form, but can be nurtured, and it is evident that good communications is a key factor in the managing (or nurturing) of team members. Buchanan & Huczynski (2010) p.202 state “Everything significant that happens in an organisation involves communication” It is also evident that if people are happy and content in their work place that they work smarter and are more receptive to new ideas. “…we perform better when our experiences at work include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation…”

Taking the view that people are the key factor in project success, would suggest that it may have a strategic advantage to consider breaking the people factor down further into discipline sectors. We could then look further into separating these groups into levels of involvement, whereby creating a table that would assist in organising the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals involved, in very much the same way as we would assess risk by creating a ‘Probability Impact Grid’, but in this respect creating a grid that assess the type of work that each individual is expected to deliver and the amount of involvement that the individual is expected to have in the project. Each of these disciplines could be broken down into levels of project delivery seniority (Not senior persons, but senior requirement for the project success); for example the contractor installing the carpet in the elevator will have a lower level of seniority within the grid during the design phase as will the architect and in the same vein if the building is to open the next day and the elevators are still to be carpeted, then this contractor will have the highest level of seniority.

It should therefore be suggested that a strategy be put in place to ensure that all resources (Resource would include – Contractor, Individuals, Materials, Stakeholders, organisations, etc.)  that are involved in the project, from the lowest level to the highest, are input into this grid, then a pattern will be created and the project manager can concentrate on the area of the grid that is most heavily populated. This grid will obviously be constantly changing as the project moves forward, but key stakeholders, which will include the workforce, will now be taken into account and the project manager will be able to create a strategy that will ensure that he spends more time managing the stakeholders that have the highest effect on the project success at the time, thus not spending, or wasting, time on less important stakeholders.

This grid would allow for key roles to be identified early in the project, for example if there is only one supplier of a specific product that can deliver reliably; this supplier would be identified within the grid, a time scale highlighted and special attention would be afforded to this supplier during the crucial stages; when the supplier has carried out their work they would be moved into a less critical area of the grid and less time would be spent managing them. This grid could be setup strategically with a view to ensuring future projects benefit, allowing for the retention of intelligence that has been accumulated in a project. As most of this intelligence is stored in the minds of the people involved, it would suggest that keeping team members and suppliers motivated will ensure that they remain focussed for any further projects that may be inter-related.

In conclusion it may be that the dynamics of the people factor that can change a project failure into success and a project success into a failure; however it is the project manager that will need to exploit the strengths of the people involved and form a strategy which will reduce the effect of their weaknesses in order to ensure project success, thus suggesting that the project manager, will need to increase his people skills in order to increase his chances of project success.

We can therefore surmise that if we would like to expect an increased number of projects to succeed in the future, that project managers are going to require further development of both their social and psychological skills, in order to develop this very complex ‘social construct’ known to us as project management.


1.     Harold Kerzner, PH.D. (2009); Project Management, A system approach to planning, scheduling & controlling 10th Edition - John Wiley & Sons

2.     Albert Hamilton (2004); Handbook of Project Management Procedures - Thomas Telford Publishing

3.     Paul D. Gardiner (2005); Project Management, A Strategic Planning Approach - Palgrave Macmillan

4.     Dennis Lock (2007); Project Management 9th Edition - Gower Publishing Ltd

5.     Peter W G Morris (1997); The Management of Projects - Thomas Telford Services

6.     Inc. <09/10/2012 – 12h00>

7.     Wiki <09/10/2012, 16h41>

8.     Wiki <09/10/2012 - 16h00>

9.     Allan. B (2004); Project Management – Tools and Techniques for Today’s ILS Professional. London UK

10.  Reiss. G (2007); Project Management Demystified. 3rd edition. Oxon: Taylor & Francis

11.  Burke. R (2006); Project Management – Planning and Control Techniques. 5th edition.

12.  Wiki <09/10/2012 - 16h00>;

13.  APM <09/10/2012, 16h13>; (

14.   Cooke-Davies. T (2002) International Journal of Project Management 20 p.185–190

15.  Lechler. T (1998) when it comes to Project Management it’s the people that matter.

16.  Gray. R (2001) Organisational climate and project success’, International journal of project management, 19(2): 103-9

17.  Buchanan. D & Huczynski. A (2010) Organizational behaviour. 7th Edition. Prentice Hall <12 Jan 13 - 16h20>


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