Program managers, are you checking your critical success factors?


Many of us monitor our steps using smartwatch to check our fitness levels. And coctors and nurses routinely check a patient’s heart rate and blood pressure as the first part of the consultation. But how often do we, as program and project managers, check the critical success factors of our projects? Not as much as we should.

A seminal article by Toni Somers and Klara Nelson (pdf), written in 2001 but still relevant today, addresses this topic. The authors proposed a list of 22 Critical Success Factors necessary for the successful implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning system. (The results could be applied, with some nuances, to any project).

Checking critical success factors may seem like common sense, but many success factors are hard to establish and even harder to maintain. The role of the program or project manager is to make this happen, for example:

  • Somers and Nelson found that the highest ranked Critical Success Factor was “top management support.” No single factor was more indicative of success. Were top management demonstrating commitment to the project? Were decisions not delegated but full responsibility taken? Are top management the driving force?
  • The second most important success factor was the overall “competence of the project team.” Knowledge, skills, ability, experience, business understanding and discerning requirements are all requirements for a competent team.
  • Third was “inter-department cooperation.” For example, were there shared goals? Was there trust between departments? Were all parties involved at all levels? Did the corporate culture support and sustain this inter-department cooperation?
  • The fourth Critical Success Factor was the setting of “clear goals and objectives.” For example, had the program goals been clarified? Did the program have a clear and concise plan? Were the objectives specific and operational?
  • The fifth ranked factor is the effectiveness of “project management,” including choosing the correct project management methodology for the project and choosing the correct tools to manage this with (such as document repositories or status/dashboard reporting). The ability to contain and manage scope, cost and schedule from beginning to end was critical to the overall success of the program.

The full list of 22 Critical Success Factors is below:

1. Top management support
2. Project team competence
3. Inter-departmental co-operation
4. Clear goals and objectives
5. Project management
6. Interdepartmental communication
7. Management of expectations
8. Project champion
9. Vendor support
10. Careful package selection
11. Data analysis and conversion
12. Dedicated resources
13. Steering committee
14. User training
15. Education on new business processes
16. Business Process Re-Engineering
17. Minimal customisation
18. Architecture choices
19. Change management
20. Vendor partnership
21. Vendor’s tools
22. Use of consultants

Are you checking your Critical Success Factors regularly?

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