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The 10 Key Project Management Success Factors… Minus Nine

WOW! So many people coming to my blog this month! Looking for the elusive recipe, aren’t you? I’ll give it to you, but before, let me settle scores with ‘Listmania’, a type of illness that prevents project managers and other stakeholders from thinking straight.
I noticed while looking at my blog entries that the ones with numbers in the title, promising ‘lists’ of questions, answers, laws, principles, success factors, failure factors, etc… were the most read. I also noticed it was the same for my co-bloggers here. So the list of the three most read blog entries on is as follows:

10 Ways to Use Requirements to Melt an Executive’s Brain        2752

Twenty Ideas du jour for the Practicing Project Manager             1616

Project Risk Management in 12 Questions                                862

So, what does it say about us as project managers? It says that we like quick fixes. It says that we like recipes. It says that we might have lost our capacity to think straight and that we rely on others to tell us what to do on OUR projects.

I am very untrusting of any list that has not been subjected to proper cause and effect analysis, and most of the lists that one can find have not been given the ‘Ishikawa’ treatment. So what is offered are lists of items that are rarely mutually exclusive. Consequently, we might end up working very hard on things that are symptoms or effects rather than root causes, which means working for nothing.

For many years, I have presented in my workshops the 10 Project Success Factors list from the Chaos Report ( as the best thing that ever hit the world since the invention of the wheel. Here it is for those who came here driven by the title of this blog entry:

The 10 Project Success Factors

(Chaos Report, version 1995….for they changed over the years, as any list of factors like that will)

  1. User Involvement -15.9%
  2. Executive Management Support -13.9%
  3. Clear Statement of Requirements -13.0%
  4. Proper Planning – 9.6%
  5. Realistic Expectations – 8.2%
  6. Smaller Project Milestones -7.7%
  7. Competent Staff -7.2%
  8. Ownership – 5.3%
  9. Clear Vision & Objectives – 2.9%
  10. Hard-Working, Focused Staff – 2.4%

The % at the end of each item shows the percent of persons (out of 365 respondents based on their collective experience on more than 8000 IT projects) who listed this item as a success factor. According to this list, the No 1 factor is User Involvement …so let’s act on it ‘Pareto style’.

What’s wrong with this approach is that it assumes that there is no causal relationship between these elements, which is a false assumption. As I look now at it ‘Ishikawa style’, the No.1 is No. 9 in the list: Clear Vision and Objectives….and, really, it is the No.1 of all lists claiming to uncover the key success factors of project management. Here how it really works. If we do not have No. 9 (‘clear’ meaning that all stakeholders see, understand and share the same vision and the same objectives), it will be impossible to:

  • respectively or simultaneously get 3, 8, 2, 1 and 7;
  • agree on 5, 4 and 6; and
  • have 10 and succeed

So, I would suggest that project managers and other stakeholders forget about all those lists for now and concentrate on the one single ingredient common to the success of all projects: clear and shared common vision and objectives. This is the one project success factor ‘list’ that is universal and that I propose to follow. The remaining items are contextual and will vary from one project to another, so be prepared to do some analysis on your project to make it a success.

No list will ever give you the recipe for success if no one is working on the same project. So start there and build, together with the other stakeholders, the list of things that you ought to do on THIS project to meet your common vision and objectives.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

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