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Critical Success Factors for Project Management

January 1, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Projects / Meetings
Critical Success Factors for Project Management

Project management is a broad topic that often describes the coordinated effort of several people. For our purposes, the keys to successful project management involve the active leadership of people and resources to achieve a particular stated end. This project teams “effort” or process is likely to be temporarily collaborative but can apply to a project involving only two or three people (over only a few hours) to a project engaging the efforts of several thousand people in several places at once, over what might be several years.

Despite the fact that we have probably all either led projects or worked on project teams many times in our lives, we don’t always know what the critical success factors are in order for project management to be successful. In other words, there are a number of keys or steps to successful project management and if we have some idea what these are, we can potentially experience our own journey on how to be a successful project manager.

Project Management Stages or Phases

All projects have a beginning, middle and end, with the job of the successful project manager being to ensure that each of these phases follow one another smoothly and to deliver the expected result. However, successful project management is not the domain of one project manager alone. Project best practices generally involve the coordinated efforts of several people on a project to ensure that their particular parts of it are successfully performed such that the overall project can deliver its expected outcome. This makes project management quite distinct from “operational” management that tends to be characterized by activities that are generally on-going and repetitive in their nature.

Rather than just to use the “beginning”, “middle” and “end” labels, it is more useful to see project management as occurring in three distinct phases:

  1. Project Management Planning, e.g. thinking about those tasks which must precede others
  2. Project Management Analysis, e.g. identifying the most important tasks
  3. Project Management Control, e.g. the use of a “network” enables forecasting of future task requirements and helps in scheduling detailed tasks.

All projects must follow these phases in the sequence shown above.

When should a “project management” approach be used?

Project management tools and techniques are best used for the planning and control of a “once-off” series of interrelated activities. Alternatively, if a set of activities has a definable start and finish date they may be viewed as forming a project that can be best coordinated by project management skills.

Successful project management skills are many and various, but the key ones include: Goal and target setting; Clear task and scope definition; Problem solving; Solution focus; Dispute handling; Manpower management and control; Teamwork effectiveness; Communication and decision-making.

The Objectives of a Project Management Approach

The following general objectives are applicable for all projects:

  • To provide a sound basis for the management and control of time, cost and other used resources
  • To break down the project into a series of individual activities and the arranging of them into a logical sequence
  • To estimate activity durations to assist in the scheduling of the overall project
  • To plan the most efficient use of project resources within the available time resources to include money, people and plant/equipment.

Project Management as a Leadership Development Approach

Best-practice project management, as a formally applied discipline has many advantages as a leadership approach. Some of these are as follows:

  • Efficient use of project resources
  • Allows for management by exception (i.e. identify and act upon wide variances from normal)
  • Gives a simple picture of the project plan or schedule
  • Allows for a speedy response to project management planning issues
  • Enables project planning and control that would otherwise be too unwieldy
  • Forces attention to detail and project quality
  • Allows for analysis of “what if?” situations for successful project planning
  • Provides an efficient communication tool.

What are the critical success factors for project management we need to focus on most?

Whether a project is a simple task to be completed over a short time frame with only a couple of participating people, or a complex set of tasks to be completed over months and years with an “army” of people, the scope of the project needs careful and painstaking definition at the outset. This is not because written goals will ensure that the project runs smoothly or even be successful. It is simply because, without firm agreement on project outcomes, it will almost certainly fail. As such, the outcomes or goals of a successful project need to be explicit and written in both accurate and succinct language for everyone to understand.

To write a succinct project outcome statement, we need to focus upon the “deliverables” that we envisage. A deliverable is a tangible result that can be expected which satisfies the needs of the customers of a particular project. For example, a simple project to arrange an outdoor experiential training course for a team might have a deliverable of: “To successfully organize and deliver an enjoyable learning event that helps build team effectiveness and morale”.

Equally in a more complex project looking to construct a new building, a deliverable might be:

“To design and build a state of the art six story office block within an 18 month period.”

Notice that in both cases outcome statements or “deliverables” are full but succinct descriptions of the final goal to be achieved that help to provide a single end of project for all project personnel and customers alike. Consequently, these statements act as a “guiding beacon” ensuring that this key objective is achieved, even though the project may also achieve many other goals along the way.

Writing explicit goal or outcome statements is now a common practice in many areas including political manifestos, company annual reports, sporting club target-setting and annual appraisal objective forms. The process is essentially the same in establishing project outcomes, with practice making perfect!


There are a number of necessary steps to successful project management. The first of these is to appreciate that every project, no matter how small or large has three phases-the planning phase, the analysis phase and the control phase. Each of these phases needs a range of very specific project management tools and techniques in order to be successful.

In all phases of any project there are likely to be several critical success factors which are key to managing successful projects. These most important of these is writing a succinct project outcome statement or committing to paper the major results that will be delivered when the project is complete. The outcome statements act as a “guiding beacon” to everyone working on a given project to help them work well together in a fully aligned way towards a successful conclusion.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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