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Project Success as a Topic in Project Management


Article in Project Management Journal December 2009

DOI: 10.1002/pmj.20137


176 7,149

1 author:

Lavagnon A. Ika
University of Ottawa


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PAPERS Project Success as a Topic in Project
Management Journals
Lavagnon A. Ika, Universit du Qubec en Outaouais, Gatineau, Qubec, Canada

nterest in project management has grown considerably over the last few
This article highlights the characteristics of
articles on project success published between
1986 and 2004 in the Project Management
Journal (PMJ) and the International Journal of
Project Management (IJPM). The analysis cov-
ers references, concepts like project manage-
I years, with academics and practitioners alike demonstrating keen inter-
est in the field. More than just a passing novelty, project management
offers organizations the means to be efficient, effective, and competitive
in a shifting, complex, and unpredictable environment. Surging interest
in the field has led to the founding of professional organizations such as
the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the International Project
ment success, project success, success criteria,
Management Association (IPMA). We also now have scientific journals ded-
and success factors; features of the samples,
icated to the field of project management, including the Project Management
data collection, and analysis techniques used;
Journal (PMJ) and the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM),
and professional disciplines. The results show
and they have become well-established references.
that research on project success is character-
Given the specific nature of project managementit is a professional and
ized by diversity except in epistemological and
scientific specialization that differs from traditional management by the gen-
methodological perspectives. The article sug-
erally limited, temporary, innovative, unique, and multidisciplinary nature of
gests a shift to project, portfolio, and program
projectsit is widely recognized that project management requires its own
success and concludes with a discussion on the
tools and techniques (Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996). It would be an oversimplifica-
traditional state of the research, criticizes its
tion to speak of project management as a group of specific tools and
assumptions, and offers alternative metaphors
techniques that one simply has to apply toward the attainment of specific
and recommendations for future research.
management objectives. Certainly, it is true that project scheduling problems
as well as planning techniques such as program evaluation and review tech-
KEYWORDS: project success; project man- nique (PERT) and critical path method (CPM) have preoccupied investigators
agement success; PMJ; IJPM and practitioners for decades. These people have shared a deep conviction
that the development of better scheduling techniques would lead to better
project management and, thus, project success (Belassi & Tukel, 1996).
Despite such scientific activity and the tireless efforts of practitioners,
projects results continue to disappoint stakeholders (Wateridge, 1995).
Today, as in the past, experienced project managers are all too familiar with
many cases of projects that are considered failures. Without entering into a
detailed discussion and listing failed projects, it can be said that, from a pro-
fessional point of view, it is important to understand the success and failure
of projects. It is no secret that project managers continue to be evaluated, in
their practice, according to the outcomes of the projects they manage,
and that their careers and the success of their organizations depend on per-
formance in these projects. From a scientific perspective, project success
undoubtedly remains a central concern, and much has been written and
said about this specific issue (Cooke-Davies, 2002). It should therefore not
come as a surprise that PMI devoted its entire 1986 symposium, held in
Montral, to this subject (Baccarini, 1999; de Wit, 1988).
Project Management Journall, Vol. 40, No. 4, 619 Given the specific ambiguity surrounding project success (Belassi &
2009 by the Project Management Institute Tukel, 1996), this issue presents significant problems for investigators. As the
Published online in Wiley InterScience proverb says, Success is one of the names of God. This bit of wisdom is par-
( ticularly germane: if studies of project success are popular, they have not led
DOI: 10.1002/pmj.20137 to a consensus on, a definition of, nor a means for measuring such success

6 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

(Pinto & Slevin, 1988a). The second take up related subjects in the near inclusive, and multidimensional con-
issue stems from the fact that project future. This is the objective of this cept whose definition is bound to a spe-
success is dependent on ones percep- research. More specifically, it aims to cific context. Without going so far as to
tion and perspective. This leads Baker, identify the main points raised in arti- propose a complete definition, we can
Murphy, and Fisher (1974) to conclude cles on project success published nevertheless frame project success in
that there is probably no such thing as between 1986 and 2004 in the two most terms of other concepts such as effi-
absolute success in project manage- important scientific journals on project ciency and effectiveness. Many authors
ment: there is only the perceived suc- management, PMJ and IJPM. Our main and practitioners consider efficiency
cess of a project. They also point out interest is to stimulate reflection on and effectiveness synonymous, and this
that how we evaluate success probably the issue of project success and lay the confusion is often present in the project
changes over time. All of the stakehold- foundation of a new theoretical frame- management literature (Belout, 1998).
ers in any given project can hardly be work for research into project success. As described by the famous American
said to hold the same point of view on We will begin by clarifying the author Peter Drucker, efficiency is to do
this matter (Lim & Mohamed, 1999). notion of project success, and then we things right, or to maximize output for
Project success and project failure are will discuss the components of the con- a given quantity of inputs or resources,
not necessarily opposite or contradicto- ceptual framework established to attain and effectiveness is to do the right
ry notions (Fincham, 2002), nor are they the objectives of our analysis. We will things, or to attain the projects goals
a black and white issue, to borrow the then explore the main elements of the and objectives. Drucker considers effec-
expression used by Baccarini (1999). studys operational framework. Finally, tiveness more important than efficiency
This ambiguity would appear to we will present and discuss our findings (see OShaugnessy, 1992, p. 13, among
present a serious hurdle to investiga- and the assumptions underlying the others). Project success therefore corre-
tors, and it has provoked lively debate. research on the project success topic, sponds to a projects efficiency and
There is also a rising tide of criticism of along with the research possibilities to effectiveness (Belout, 1998).
the research that has been conducted which they lead. As proposed here, the definition of
on project management in general the concept of success remains very
and on project success in particular The Concept of Project Success broad. Implicitly or explicitly, the authors
(Sderlund, 2004). In this respect, the The concept of project success is diffi- generally discuss project success with
research is often criticized for being cult to define. As defined by the the conviction that they are talking
underdeveloped and not founded on Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), about project management success or
a solid theoretical and conceptual success is the accomplishment of an more than successful project manage-
groundwork (see, for example, Shenhar & aim; a favourable outcome. But what ment (the project success). Within the
Dvir, 1996). There have been many calls can be said of project success? Without conceptual framework of this review, a
for an assessment of what has actually venturing onto risky terrain, we can say distinction is necessary between proj-
been achieved by the research on proj- that there is no consensus as to what ect management success and project
ect management, a profession that constitutes project success or project success. Project success has long been
continues to flourish (see, for example, failure. Pinto and Slevin (1988a) sug- considered the ability to fall within
Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002a, 2002b). gested that few concepts in project time, cost, and quality constraints. The
Admittedly, the idea of stopping to management have been addressed time/cost/quality triangle or iron
take stock of research on project man- in the literature on a regular basis with- triangle, or the golden triangle, that
agement may appear very tempting. It out the investigators being able to reach some professionals call the Holy
would be interesting to see if the inves- a consensus on definitions. Wells (1998) Trinity or the triangle of virtue suf-
tigators have met expectations concern- goes so far as to complain about how ficed as a definition of project success
ing the theoretical and social relevance little attention has been paid to defin- (Atkinson, 1999; Hazebroucq & Badot,
of their work. However, the prospect of ing success, except what could be said 1996, p. 35; Westerveld, 2003). However,
identifying these issues is even more in the most general terms. Arriving at a projects have often enough been deliv-
exciting in terms of the challenges and definition of project success would ered within time, cost, and quality, only
opportunities it represents. Given that appear to represent an enormous chal- to be considered failures (this is the case
the art of project management (prac- lenge to investigators. of the second generation of the Ford
tice) would appear to take precedence Several authors simply presume that Taurus car that was completed on time
over the science of project management everyone knows what is meant by proj- in 1995 but turned out to be a disap-
(theory), highlighting aspects of research ect success and project failure. The pointing business experience [Shenhar
on project success would give the issue only thing that is certain in project man- et al., 2005]). At the same time, other
new life and perhaps inspire others to agement is that success is an ambiguous, projects that have exceeded time or cost

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 7

Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

constraints are generally considered be discussed in more detail in the next issue of client satisfaction. Project suc-
successful (Pinto & Slevin, 1988a). The section. cess therefore becomes a virtuous
Thames Barrier, the Fulmar North Sea square of criteria: time, cost, quality,
Oil project, the Concorde, the Sydney Project Success Criteria and Critical and client satisfaction. In subsequent
Opera House, and the first generation of Success Factors articles (see Baccarini, 1999; Lim &
the Ford Taurus car are several good Research on project success generally Mohamed, 1999; Shenhar, Levy, & Dvir,
examples (Lim & Mohamed, 1999; falls into one of the following cate- 1997, among others), project success
Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996; Shenhar et al., gories, depending on the subject of becomes a hexagon, where, in addition
2005). The percussion effect, to borrow study: either they deal with project suc- to the traditional dimensions of time,
from Hazebroucq (1993), would appear cess criteria (or dimensions) or they cost, and quality, we find the realization
to apply: projects that were perceived as examine critical success factors (CSFs). of the strategic objectives of the client
failures at their launch would later On occasion, we observe a hybrid cate- organization that initiated the project,
become models of success, while others gory that acts as a bridge between CSFs the satisfaction of end users, and the
considered successes at their launch and success criteria. It is important to satisfaction of other stakeholders. If
turned into catastrophes. A project team clarify these two concepts, because it is project success criteria are known, the
may therefore be wrongly congratulated not unusual to come across a discus- fact remains that there are a certain
or blamed, depending on when a project sion that blurs the distinction between number of conditions that must be met
is considered a success or failure. them or even takes them for synonyms in order for a project to be successful.
It was this apparent paradox that led (Lim & Mohamed, 1999). Research on critical success factors,
de Wit (1988) to suggest a distinction The Canadian Oxford Dictionary the levers that a project manager can
between project success and project (1998) suggests that a criterion is a employ to bolster a projects odds at
management success. Considering the principle or standard that a thing is success, began by focusing attention on
tautological perspective under which a judged by, while a factor is a circum- different aspects of project control
project only exists in terms of prede- stance, fact, or influence contributing (Westerveld, 2003). Then Baker,
fined objectives (Hazebroucq & Badot, to a result. Project success criteria may Murphy, and Fisher (1974) suggested
1996, p. 35), de Wit (1988) takes issue therefore refer to a group of principles replacing the time/cost/quality triangle
with the equation: project objectives or standards used to determine or judge by a measure of perceived success.
project management objectives. For project success, and critical success These studies usually consisted of prac-
Munns and Bjeirmi (1996), the project factors refer more specifically to condi- titioners summarizing their experience
management objectives differ from the tions, events, and circumstances that and were not the result of scientific
project objectives, and we can no longer contribute to project results. We will empiricism (Hazebroucq, 1993). It was
afford to confuse strict adherence to the now take a closer look at the project Slevin and Pinto (1986) who proposed a
time/cost/quality trianglethe most success criteria. scientific basis for success that compris-
common objective of project manage- A classic solution to the problem of es ten key success factors: project mis-
mentwith project success. how to measure project success is to sion, top management support, project
This dichotomy is very important, propose a simple formula that is schedules/plan, client consultation,
because in terms of this review it enables unequivocal, that can easily be applied, personnel, technical tasks, client
us to draw a distinction between articles and that the parties can agree to (Dvir, acceptance, monitoring and feedback,
that discuss success as project manage- Raz, & Shenhar, 2003; Pinto & Slevin, troubleshooting, and communication.
ment success from articles that treat 1988a). Hence, the triangle of virtue: These ten factors are more or less man-
project success as more than project time, cost, and quality as criteria for ageable by the project team. Pinto and
management success. measuring success. Some writers main- Slevin (1988b) then extended this list
The concept of project success tain that the quality criterion involves with four additional factors considered
remains vague and ambiguous, to the meeting functional and technical spec- outside the project implementation
point that the literature on project ifications. Many more lay out a bolder process and therefore outside the teams
management does not reach a broader proposal: quality is an ambiguous, mul- control: characteristics of the project
consensus on its definition and meas- tidimensional, and subjective concept team leader, power and politics, envi-
urement than to say that it involves effi- that lends itself to different interpreta- ronmental events, and urgency. Many
ciency and effectiveness. The authors tions by various project stakeholders CSF lists and frameworks have been pro-
we reviewed nevertheless agree on its (see Wateridge, 1995). The limited posed by different authors, and some
importance and on the existence of scope of this trilogy has been singled studies were done on the specific rela-
project success criteria and critical fac- out for criticism (Hazebroucq & Badot, tion between a particular CSF and proj-
tors. This conceptual framework will 1996). Baker et al. (1974) added the ect success (see Jugdev & Mller, 2005).

8 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

For example, Henderson (2004) studied Research in the area of CSFs and management success and project suc-
the association between the project success criteria has demonstrated that cess and the desire to examine research
managers communication competency it is simply impossible to develop an on project success criteria, studies of
and project success. exhaustive list that will meet the needs CSFs, and articles linking project suc-
Given the uniqueness of projects of all projects. This stems directly from cess factors with success criteria. The
and their temporary nature, research on the fact that success criteria and CSFs research statement was therefore:
CSFs will also take the project life cycle can differ so much from one project to (project management success or proj-
into account (Pinto & Slevin, 1988b). another due to variables such as project ect success) or project success criteria
Again, according to these authors, in the scope, uniqueness, and complexity or project success factors. This query
project design phase, project mission (Wateridge, 1998). However, the idea of generated 13,054 notices containing at
and client consultation would appear to a universal set of project success crite- least one of the terms, whether in the
be the most important factors. In the ria, on one hand, and a universal title, in keywords, or in the abstract,
project planning phase, the key success grouping of CSFs, on the other, would including 5,232 notices from scientific
factors are project mission, top manage- appear to be garnering more attention journals, many of which came from the
ment support, client acceptance, and (Lim & Mohamed, 1999; Westerveld, Project Management Journal and
urgency. During project execution, the 2003). This is an idea that runs through the International Journal of Project
key factors are project mission, charac- articles linking success factors with suc- Management. We decided to limit our
teristics of the project team leader, trou- cess criteria, and these articles should review to articles published in PMJ and
bleshooting, project schedules/plan, not be categorized as either work IJPM from January 1986 to March 2004.
technical tasks, and client consultation. on project success criteria or work on Our review then covers 76 out of the 82
Finally, at project closing phase, the key success factors. issues of PMJ and 70 issues of IJPM, and
success factors are technical tasks, proj- we were able to retrieve 179 notices
ect mission, and client consultation. Operational Framework from PMJ and 66 notices from IJPM. The
Ultimately, Pinto and Slevin The objective of this study is to high- decision to keep a notice turned on an
(1988b), among others, have drawn light the characteristics of published analysis of the notices content and from
several lessons from the CSFs. But the research on project success. This sec- January to March 2004, 30 scientific arti-
exercise is more productive when we tion deals with the methodological cles were finally selected and analyzed.
take into account both project success aspects of the work. In this instance, we (See the Appendix for the rationale lead-
factors and success criteria. needed to begin by selecting the jour- ing to the selection of only PMJ and
Very few articles discuss both suc- nals and articles to include in our IJPM among all the scientific journals,
cess factors and success criteria, and review. As a point of departure, we con- of the 30 articles and the period from
few empirical studies have sought to structed a search statement comprising January 1986 to March 2004.)
examine important links between CSFs the terms project management suc- The critical analysis of articles will
and success criteria (Tan, 1996). In cess (or project success), project therefore address references, the mean-
1994, in an editorial on developments success criteria, and project success ings given to project management
in project management, Turner made factors, and looked for bibliographic success or project success, objects of
the following observation: entries in the ABI/INFORM GLOBAL study related to success (success crite-
database. (Note that ABI/INFORM ria, success factors, or links between
A lot has been written over the past GLOBAL is one of the worlds first elec- success factors and success criteria),
ten years about how to achieve proj-
tronic databases covering business, features of the samples, data collection
ect success (the key factors).
management, economics, and a wide and analysis techniques used, and pro-
However, very little has been written
about how success is measured or
range of related fields. It contains cita- fessional disciplines. Also, a retrospec-
judged (the criteria). A PhD student tions with abstracts to articles appear- tive look of the development of the field
of mine was able to find only two ref- ing in more than 2,700 international is suggested.
erences. How can you say what the periodicals, 75% of which are published A review of references will be used
correct success factors are until you in the United States. ABI/INFORM has to capture the journals interest in proj-
have identified the criteria? been a premier source of business ect success. The meanings given to
information for more than 30 years. project success, whether project man-
Hence, there is the need to clarify [ agement success or project success, are
project success criteria, select project ucts_pq/descriptions/abi_inform.shtm pertinent to developing an opinion on
CSFs at project start-up, and ensure l, retrieved November 30, 2006]). This the more or less explicit conception that
that all stakeholders agree with their statement was based on the need to the authors have of project success.
definition (Wateridge, 1995). make a distinction between project The objects of this study, project success

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 9

Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

criteria, success factors, and links Meanings Given to Project

Year PMJ IJPM Total
between project success factors and Management Success and Project
project success criteria, will be used to 1986 1 1 Success
get closer to the traditional categories 1987 1 1 Either implicitly or explicitly, the arti-
found in the literature on project suc- cles reviewed would appear to treat
cess. Sampling aspects, how data is col- 1988 3 3 project success as more than project
lected, and data-analysis techniques 1989 management success. (The exceptions
will enable us to address methodologi- are articles by Beale and Freeman
cal concerns. Finally, professional disci-
1990 1 1 [1991], Freeman and Beale [1992], Paek
plines encountered in the review will 1991 1 1 [1995], Clarke [1999], and Jang and Lee
indicate the areas of knowledge in [1998], which treat success as project
1992 1 1
which project success has been stud- management success; i.e., they rather
ied. The following section presents our 1993 tacitly consider success to be compli-
findings. 1994 ance with time, cost, and quality
constraints.) In other words, 25 of 30
Presentation and Analysis of 1995 2 2 articles take criteria other than time,
Findings cost, and quality into consideration in
1996 2 2 4
The 30 articles selected will be analyzed
their definitions of project success
according to the seven rubrics previ- 1997 1 1
(in order to avoid any confusion,
ously mentioned.
1998 3 3 Baccarini [1999] prefers to speak of
References 1999 2 3 5 product success): satisfying the expec-
Table 1 shows the number of articles tations of clients, end-users, and stake-
published on project success in each of 2000 holders. This finding stands in stark
the two journals between January 1986 2001 contrast with the traditional notion of
and March 2004. Project success would success (the triple-constraint criteria of
appear to receive the same amount
2002 1 1 project management success) held by
of attention in PMJ and IJPM. The first 2003 1 2 3 practitioners and investigators. Perhaps
eight articles were of course published by this surprising finding is explained by
Jan. to 3 3
PMJ between 1986 and 1992, because March this studys relatively small sample and
IJPM was not easily accessed before 2004 the fact that one-half of the articles
1992, the year that ABI/INFORM began reviewed are conceptual.
including it in the index (see Kloppenborg Total 14 16 30
& Opfer, 2002a, 2002b). IJPMs interest in Table 1: Number of articles published per A Retrospective Look at the
project success becomes apparent from journal, January 1986 to March 2004. Development of the Field Over
1995 to 1999 when it published ten arti- the Years
cles on the subject, or a third of all the Because our understanding of project
publications in the study period (1986 success is evolving (Jugdev & Mller,
2004). At least this was the observation Does this indicate a lack of interest on 2005), it is useful to see how the field of
made by Themistocleous and Wearne their part, or is it simply a coincidence? research on project success develops
in 2000 when they analyzed the themes It is difficult to ascertain. Maybe this is over the years. Table 2 portrays trends
taken up in the two journals. Themisto- due to the late 1990s criticism against regarding project management success/
cleous and Wearne underscored the research on project success. project success and shows the gradual
growing attention IJPM appeared to be It is also important to point out that understanding weve had on project
paying to project success. They thought a total of 15 conceptual articles out of success. The framework involves three
that the change was rooted in an eco- 30 appeared in the two journals (six in periods. Period 1 (1960s1980s) illus-
nomic environment characterized by PMJ in the period leading up to 1992 trates the supreme reign of the iron tri-
recession and progressively tighter and nine in IJPM). One could conclude angle (project management success) as
budgets. that IJPM appears to publish more con- the criterion of success. During that
As we expected, most of the articles ceptual articles on success, but such an period, the literature was theoretical
on success were published in the 1990s. assertion should be moderated by the and provided anecdotic lists of critical
It is still surprising, however, that PMJ fact that IJPM is published six to eight success factors. Instead, Period 2
has only published one article on proj- times per year, while PMJ is published (1980s2000s) was dominated by empir-
ect success between 2000 and 2004. on a quarterly basis. ical work such as Pinto and Slevins

10 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

Period 1 Period 2 Period 3
Research Focus 1960s1980s 1980s2000s 21st Century
Success criteria Iron triangle Iron triangle Iron triangle
(time, cost, quality) Client satisfaction Strategic objective of client organizations
Benefits to organization (org) and business success
End-users satisfaction End-users satisfaction
Benefits to stakeholders Benefits to stakeholders
Benefits to project personnel Benefits to project personnel and
symbolic and rhetoric evaluations of
success and failure
Success factors Anecdotic lists CSF lists and frameworks More inclusive CSF frameworks and
symbolic and rhetoric success factors
Emphasis Project management Project/product success Project/product, portfolio, and program
success success and narratives of success and
Table 2: Measuring success across time.

10 CSF framework (1988b). Although

Success Success
the iron triangle is still very important,
Year Criteria Factors Links Total
other success criteria are welcomed
(Atkinson, 1999), and the emphasis 1986 1 1
shifts from project management suc-
1987 1 1
cess to project/product success
(Baccarini, 1999; Shenhar et al., 1997). 1988 1 1 1 3
Period 3, as we envisage it, will welcome 1989
other context-dependent and, most
important, project/product, portfolio, 1990 1 1
and program success criteria and CSFs 1991 1 1
(see, for example, Cooke-Daviess 12
CSF framework, 2002), as well as sym-
1992 1 1
bolic and rhetoric ones. In fact, strategic 1993
project management will be an issue
(see, for instance, Jugdev & Mller, 2005;
Shenhar et al., 2005), and narratives of 1995 1 1 2
success and failure will have their fair 1996 2 2 4
share of papers (Fincham, 2002).
1997 1 1
Objects of Study 1998 1 2 3
Table 3 reveals that the preferred sub-
1999 3 1 4
ject of authors writing on project suc-
cess is CSFs. There were a total of 15 2000
articles on success factors, or half of the 2001
articles reviewed: eight on success cri-
teria and seven on the links between 2002 1 1 2
CSFs and success criteria. This finding 2003 2 1 3
lends support to the notion that studies
on project success are too often
Jan. to March 2004 1 2 3
focused on success factors and not Total 8 15 7 30
often enough on the criteria or, more
Table 3: Number of articles on success published between 1986 and March 2004, by object of study.
specifically, the links between success

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 11

Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

factors and success criteria, as previ- Ashley, Lurie, & Jaselskis, 1987, PMJ, other professionals, such as managers,
ously mentioned. 18(2) senior management, engineers, infor-
We also observe that it was only in mation system analysts, programmers,
1995 that concerns began to emerge for de Wit, 1988, PMJ, 6(3) sponsors, and users.
discovering links between project Wateridge, 1995, IJPM, 13(3)
Data-Collection Techniques
success factors and project success
Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996, IJPM, 14(2) Investigators writing on project success
criteria, and these issues began to be
tend to use questionnaires sent out by
regularly discussed in articles on proj- Tan, 1996, PMJ, 27(2)
mail and then use the Likert scale. They
ect success. Beginning that same year, Clarke, 1999, IJPM, 17(3) prefer evaluative or exploratory ques-
five out of seven articles dealt with links
Westerveld, 2003, IJPM, 21(6) tions to open techniques like an in-depth
between project success factors and
interview. In this perspective, subjects
project success criteria. Tables 4, 5, and Table 6: Linking success factors and success are considered to have much the same
6 list articles by object of study. criteria.
framework of reference and the
same perception of the measurement
scale, but this is clearly not always the
case. Cost savings are often cited as
Slevin & Pinto, 1986, PMJ, 17(4) Samples Used
the reason for this method. But it is clear
Pinto & Slevin, 1988b, PMJ, 19(3) Investigators conducting empirical
that, more or less implicitly, investigators
research on project success undoubtedly
Hubbard, 1990, PMJ, 21(3) believe that they have discovered or
prefer a large sample certainly because of
revealed the laws or rules governing rela-
Beale & Freeman, 1991, PMJ, 22(4) the dominant objectivist tradition (see
tionships between different aspects of a
Discussion and Conclusion). Although
Lidow, 1999, PMJ, 30(4) social reality represented by a project
sample size varies from one study to
and therefore adopt an objectivist
Paek, 1995, PMJ, 26(4) another, it rarely has less than 30 subjects
approach in their study of project suc-
and often exceeds 100. Only one study
Belassi & Tukel, 1996, IJPM, 14(3) cess. Several studies have nevertheless
draws from a sample of under 30 subjects
Jiang, Klein, & Balloun, 1996, PMJ, 27(4) used questionnaires and interviews to
(16 projects).
reduce the risk of responses from subjects
Belout, 1998, IJPM, 16(1) The diversity of projects in the sam-
who do not fulfill the conditions required
ples is also noteworthy. The projects are
Jang & Lee, 1998, IJPM, 16(2) for participation in the study and who,
essentially in the fields of construction,
due to the anonymity of their responses,
Cooke-Davies, 2002, IJPM, 20(1) information technologies, communica-
would have otherwise biased results.
tions, research, and development. Even
Dvir, Raz, & Shenhar, 2003, IJPM, 21(1)
if the projects were undertaken by a Data-Analysis Techniques
Finch, 2003, PMJ, 34(3) wide variety of companies, they were Research on project success is, by
Sderlund, 2004, IJPM, 22(3) mostly carried out in North America and large, quantitative. The time/cost/
and Europe, and rarely in Africa or Asia. quality triangle, we will recall, has two
Belout & Gauvreau, 2004, IJPM, 22(1) International development projects dimensions that are easily quantifiable;
Table 4: Success criteria. were quite rare; in fact, there was only hence, the use of statistical techniques
one (Diallo & Thuillier, 2004), out of 30 for analyzing data. It is revealing that no
articles! According to Themistocleous study has used content analysis in the
Pinto & Slevin, 1988a, PMJ, 19(1) and Wearne (2000), there would be sev- articles published between January
eral reasons for this recurring observa- 1986 and March 2004. In fact, the ratio-
Freeman & Beale, 1992, PMJ, 23(1) tion, but the most important could very nalist/normative view is the prevailing
Shenhar, Levy, & Dvir, 1997, PMJ, 28(2) well be that the two journals, PMJ and one in project management research
IJPM, are published in the developed (Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006; Fincham,
Wateridge, 1998, IJPM, 16(1)
countries, and writers who hope to 2002; Packendorff, 1995).
Lim & Mohamed, 1999, IJPM, 17(4) publish articles on development would There is no shortage of descriptive
Atkinson, 1999, IJPM, 17(6) be more drawn to journals specializing statistics in most of the studies of
in development issues. project success; they use numerical
Baccarini, 1999, PMJ, 30(4) Knowledge production on project methods of calculation to obtain data
Diallo & Thuillier, 2004, IJPM, 22(1) success usually relies on information on central tendency and dispersion
obtained from project managers, but (mean, median, mode, rank, frequency,
Table 5: Success factors.
investigators have also relied on many etc.) or make use of graphs (distributions

12 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

of frequencies, for example). Such sta- would obviously appear to be studied in provide some parameters for drawing a
tistics summarize project cost and proj- project management, but it is also stud- distinction between the concepts of
ect duration or classify project success ied in construction, in information and project success and project manage-
criteria or project success factors by communications technology manage- ment success. As Baccarini (1999)
order of importance. One article, ment, and in research and develop- explained, the hard dimensions of a
Wateridge (1998), produced only a fre- ment. This confirms the findings of project (e.g., time, cost) are tangible,
quency analysis. Kloppenborg and Opfer (2002a, 2002b) objective, and measurable, while the
Because project success is multidi- in their assessment of the current state soft dimensions (e.g., stakeholders sat-
mensional, multivariate statistical of research in project management. isfaction) are subjective, subtle, and
techniques have been widely used. Based on a review of 3,554 articles, they more difficult to measure (see Crawford
Early on, particular attention was paid found that studies on project manage- & Pollack, 2004, for a discussion of hard
to multivariate analysis such as multi- ment are most often conducted in and soft aspects of projects). The former
ple linear regression and analysis of construction and information systems dimensions are clearly tied to a project
variance that used explanatory vari- settings (21% and 21%, respectively). As that has reached completion; hence, the
ables. Regression analysis dominated previously mentioned, international tendency to measure project success by
studies on project success until 1997 development is by and large neglected project management success (Munns &
(accounting for 9 articles out of 14). or under-represented. Bjeirmi, 1996). Obviously, from project
This use of statistical analysis is managers point of views, the end of a
undoubtedly not neutral: regression Discussion and Conclusions project coincides with product or serv-
analysis is not only a statistical tech- This article has analyzed articles on ice delivery, and under this perspective
nique, but it is also a means to perceive success from two scientific journals there is no need to consider the down-
a social reality (Abbott, 1988). The on project management, PMJ and IJPM. stream effects of a project (Munns &
underlying idea is that the same causes We have found that research on project Bjeirmi, 1996; Wateridge, 1995, 1998).
should produce the same effects; proj- success may very well be characterized Project management success may
ect success factors, for example, are by diversity except in epistemological ultimately lead to project success, but
universal and transcend projects and and methodological perspectives: the opposite is not true: it is reasonable
project managers, and paying special diversity in meanings given to the to assume that failure in project man-
attention to these success factors terms, in samples, and in techniques agement may lead to project failure,
should, all other things being equal, used in data collection and analysis. except under fortuitous circumstances,
logically lead to project success. This finding matches quite well our but that the project can also fail despite
Even if investigators do not, for the expectations before the study and justi- successful project management. Ceteris
most part, appear to have abandoned fies our contribution. In fact, project paribus, project management success
regression analysis, beginning in 1997 success is an object of study that is would be neither a necessary nor a sat-
we see a growing interest in the use of inclusive, ambiguous, and multidimen- isfactory condition for project success.
descriptive multivariate analysisin sional. It defies consensus on its This is a troubling conclusion for proj-
this case, factor analysisand, more definition and measurement. It should ect managers, who are often sacrificed
precisely, principal components analy- require different approaches to its at the altar of efficiency and effective-
ses (three articles). Descriptive multi- study, but until now, the dominant line ness but also are obliged to face com-
variate analysis is used to reduce a table is the objectivist one. plexity. As pointed out by Hazebroucq
of data to several factors or constructs In our journey toward a comprehen- (1993), because of the specific and
underlying the original variables that sive understanding of project success, complex nature of projects, project
are often too numerous for correlation one should not confuse any more managers increasingly resemble travel-
or regression analysis, which require a between project management success ers desperately trying to climb aboard a
limited number of variables. Diallo and and project success. Semantically, proj- train: they are encumbered with heavy
Thuillier (2004) used multinomial logis- ect management success refers to luggage and laden with documents and
tic regression to avoid the problems efficiency, an internal concern to the information (self translation).
associated with normality, linearity, project team, and project success The last decades experienced a
and homoscedasticity violations, which embraces concerns for efficiency and gradual understanding that project suc-
hamper multiple regression analysis. effectivenessin other words, all con- cess requires broader definitions than
cerns, whether internal or external, project management success (Jugdev &
Professional Disciplines short-term or long-term (Shenhar et al., Mller, 2005) despite the fact that this
Given the multidisciplinary nature of 1997). Time and the measurability of traditional triangle view of success is
projects, articles on project success specific project management objectives still prevailing (Turner, 1999). Most of

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 13

Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

the researchers, although they recog- between articles on project success reduce project success to project man-
nize that there are other criteria for (product success) and articles that con- agement success would be a vindication
project success, would, in fact, attach sider success to be project management of the quantitative approach to studying
more importance to the time/cost/ success. Confusion seems to persist project success. On the other hand, the
quality triangle (White & Fortune, 2002). between the project quality criterion idea that we could find an unequivocal
As the emphasis is more and more put and the client satisfaction criterion. means to measure success is nothing
on the links between project, portfolio, There may not be a consensus on quali- short of utopic. For Hazebroucq and
and program (Bredillet, 2006; Cicmil & ty as strict compliance with functional Badot (1996, p. 37), the time/cost/qual-
Hodgson, 2006; Jugdev & Mller, 2005; and technical specifications. Another ity triangle does not account for what
Shenhar et al., 2005), we envisage a investigator could object, maintaining Franois Jolivet, first Director General of
trend toward project, portfolio, and pro- that quality is found in all the properties the Channel Tunnel TransManche Link,
gram concerns in project success litera- and characteristics of a product or serv- called the breeder effect of a project,
ture, as portrayed by Table 2. In fact, as ice by which not only the clients explic- in which a project generates more total
Shenhar et al. (2005, p. 3) put it: it needs but also implicit needs can be wealth than it consumes, in terms
Strategically managed projects are satisfied. This definition, as proposed by of human, financial, and technical
focused on achieving business results the International Organization of resources, for all the actors, both inter-
while operationally managed projects Standardization (ISO), clearly shows nal and external, involved. Project man-
are focused on getting the job done. that there is not a clear demarcation agement success is also a mechanistic
With this emphasis on project, portfolio, between the project quality criterion vision of project success, in which
and program success, it is reasonable to and the client satisfaction criterion. actors seek Taylors one best way to do
expect that knowledge production on Given the scope and fine distinction things. Fifty years later, the rhetoric
project success rely more on senior to be drawn in our notions about proj- behind the time/cost/quality triangle
managers, project sponsors or owners ect success, it is also important to con- would appear to have created an unre-
and anyone involved in project selec- sider research approaches and avenues alistic vision that may be better or worse
tion and design. In the same vein, as that would be worth exploring. Project (Atkinson, 1999), but under which the
much of the research is done in engi- success is such a rich concept, and the entire project is reduced to these three
neering, construction, and information literature is so abundant that we cannot dimensions. In addition, research on
technology, we think that this might possibly have covered all its many char- CSFs, albeit the dominant line, has
have a bearing on the dominance of the acteristics. One research avenue that remained inconclusive (Fortune &
triangle view of project success. Indeed, immediately comes to mind is extend- White, 2006; Jugdev & Mller, 2005). It is
in the softer industries and the public ing our study and casting a wider net time for authors to address the absence
sector where the emphasis on portfolio, over management journals listed in the of empirical research about project suc-
and program management is high, it is ABI/INFORM databasemore specifi- cess in different organizational contexts
safe to claim that the triangle view will cally, articles that show an interest in (Hyvri, 2006).
shift toward one of project, portfolio project management. Whatever meaning the authors we
and program success. In any case, if the Perhaps the most important line of review give the term, project success is
triangle has reigned supreme, this is research suggested by this study would seen in terms of the projects predefined
probably due to the fact that project be an examination of project success in objectives, be they constraints of time,
management is not that mature in those terms of its multidimensional nature. cost, quality, or satisfaction. Such a tau-
sectors, and they have been copying This was suggested by Dvir, Lipovetsky, tological perspective of projects suggests
from the older project-oriented, domi- Shenhar, and Tishler (1998), who pro- determinism, which is fundamental to
nated industries. In particular, research posed abandoning fruitless research the modern paradigm (Hazebroucq &
on international development project into universal success criteria and fac- Badot, 1996, p. 37). Project objectives
success is overdue. tors for a contingent approach to the therefore represent constraints on proj-
Some comments are needed study of project success. It is far from ect managers and their promoters and
regarding the limits of this study. clear that success criteria and factors serve as guidelines for evaluating suc-
First, by only examining articles that transcend projects and stakeholders in cess. However, the inherent ambiguity of
appeared in two periodicals, we have time and space, given the unique project success and the lack of consen-
disregarded work from other journals, nature of projects and their specific sus on its definition, its measurement,
even articles cited by authors published management context. If the dominant and its softer aspects open up a third and
in PMJ and IJPM. Even though this may paradigm used to understand project significant avenue of research: the emer-
be a real limitation, however, it is the success is the time/cost/quality trian- gence of a subjectivist point of view
dividing line, albeit not always clear, gle, its limitations are now very clear. To and an ideographic and qualitative

14 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

Common Alternative 1: Alternative 2:
Assumptions Contingent Approach Subjectivist Approach
Project success A universal set of criteria There is no one best way account for Success and failure are not
and CSF exists in practice. project success; only idiosyncratic criteria only subjectively perceived and
and CSFs exist for specific projects and constructed by people, but
contexts. they are entwined in meaning
and action.
Aim of the research Objectivist view of project Situational view of project success Subjectivist view of project
on project success success grounded in ideal grounded in specific sets of criteria and success grounded in empirical
sets of criteria and CSF. CSFs. Research undertaken as unique narratives of success and
Research undertaken as or multiple case studies. failure. Research undertaken
survey of large samples as comparative case studies.
of projects.
Research metaphor Project success framework Project success framework as a Project success as a social
for project success as a universal tool for context-specific tool for achieving construct.
achieving goals and goals and objectives.
Table 7: Common and alternative assumptions on project success.

point of view. This may represent a ect success found in the bulk of 30 arti- intellectual roots not in the engineering
clean break from current preoccupa- cles covered in this analysis. The first science and applied mathematics like
tions, but it is worth exploring because one is termed contingent or situation- the first two but in the social sciences,
it will probably shed some light on al, and the second one is called such as sociology, organization theory,
other less explored areas of research subjectivist. Table 7 summarizes the and psychology (Sderlund, 2004, p. 3).
on project success. The objective would common assumptions and the alterna- This change in metaphor in the
be to understand project success as it is tive assumptions underlying research research on project success leads to dif-
perceived subjectively and as it is con- on project success, as well as a much ferent research foci of the project suc-
structed by managers and other stake- more needed shift from the current cess topic (summarized in Table 8).
holders. The research would involve metaphor to alternative metaphors. In Instead of looking for a simplistic for-
in-depth interviews and would, for the current traditional project success mula for measuring success and a uni-
example, allow project actors to tell research, project success framework is versal list of CSFs that exist in practice
their professional life stories or talk seen as a universal tool for achieving and transcend projects and stakehold-
about success factors. Are not words, by goals and objectives. In contrast, in the ers in time and space, we argue that one
their very nature, infinitely richer than contingent approach, project success should turn to context-specific and
numbers? Does reliance on numbers framework is seen as a context-specific even symbolic and rhetoric project suc-
not capture a social reality (the project) tool, whereas in the subjectivist cess criteria and CSFs. In this last case,
in a rigid structure, reducing the role of approach, project success is considered success and failure are not seen as
project managers to elements that are a social construct (see Fincham [2002] objective, discrete, polarized states or
subject only to the influence of a group for the last metaphor). end points but as a complex double act
of more or less deterministic forces: The first two metaphors are ground- entwined in meaning and action. They
project success factors? ed in the instrumental view of project form an interactive discourse. They are
Building on the work by the success and in the tradition of natural narratives (i.e., they are like generic
Scandinavian school and especially sciences, where rationality, universali- recurring themes across diverse stories;
by Packendorff (1995), who is very criti- ty, objectivity, value-free decision- Fincham, 2002). Also in this subjectivist
cal of the traditional project manage- making, the possibility of generating approach, one might welcome research
ment research and, for that reason, sug- law-like predictions, the belief in pro- on the cognitive aspects of project suc-
gests a change in metaphor from proj- gressive, and cumulative character of cess and failure (see, for example,
ects to temporary organizations, we knowledge are fundamental assump- Robertson & Williams, 2006).
argue that there are two alternatives to tions (Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006, p. 111). Given the limits of the modern
the recurring objectivist view of proj- The third and last metaphor has its paradigm (Hazebroucq & Badot, 1996,

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 15

Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

Metaphor Project Success Project Success Project Success
Research Framework as a Framework as a Framework as a
Focus Universal Tool Context-Specific Tool Social Construct
Success criteria A simplistic formula, unequivocal, Context-specific measures of success Symbolic and rhetoric
easy to access, and agreed upon for different projects and environments evaluations of project success
and failure
Success factors A universal list or grouping of An idiosyncratic list or grouping of CSFs Symbolic and rhetoric CSFs
CSFs that objectively exist in that objectively exist and vary according
practice and transcend projects to projects and environments
and stakeholders in time and
Table 8: Research foci of the project success topic in different metaphorical settings.

p. 50), one could imagine a postmodern project success. Project Management The impact of human resource
view of projects and, by extension, proj- Journal, 18(2), 6979. management. International Journal
ect success. In this respect, the following Atkinson, R. (1999). Project manage- of Project Management, 22, 111.
remarks made by Doug DeCarlo (cited by ment: Cost, time and quality, two best Bredillet, C. N. (2006, October). Investi-
Thomsett, 2002, p. 21) are very instruc- guesses and a phenomenon, its time gating the future of project management:
tive: project managers suffer from a to accept other criteria. International A co-word analysis. Paper presented at
Newtonian neurosis, a sort of pathologi- Journal of Project Management, 17, the IRNOP conference in Xian, China.
cal need to bring structures to projects. 337342. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary.
What is needed is a quantum view of the Baccarini, D. (1999). The logical frame- (1998). Don Mills, Canada: Oxford
world in which chaos, change, uncer- work method for defining project suc- University Press.
tainty, and relaxation of control are cess. Project Management Journal, Cicmil, S., & Hodgson, D. (2006).
accepted as a means of gaining control. 30(4), 2532. New possibilities for project manage-
More important, we need to rethink
Baker, B. N., Murphy, D. C., & Fisher, D. ment theory: A critical engagement.
projects and reconsider the very defini-
(1974). Factors affecting project suc- Project Management Journal, 37(3),
tion of project management, even if
cess. In D. I. Cleland & W. R. King 111122.
that is beyond the scope of this work.
(Eds.), Project management handbook Clarke, A. (1999). A practical use of
Turners (1996) remarks should not
(pp. 902919). New York: Van Nostrand key success factors to improve the
leave anyone indifferent: Project man-
Reinhold. effectiveness of project management.
agement is the art and science of con-
Beale, P., & Freeman, M. (1991). Success- International Journal of Project
verting vision into reality. But will this
ful project execution: A model. Project Management, 17, 139145.
definition be acceptable to all parties?
Management Journal, 22(4), 2330. Cooke-Davies, T. (2002). The real
Acknowledgments Belassi, W., & Tukel, O. I. (1996). A new success factors on projects.
I would like to thank the two anony- framework for determining critical International Journal of Project
mous reviewers of PMJ for their helpful success/failure factors in projects. Management, 20, 185190.
comments and Professor Pierre Cossette International Journal of Project Crawford, L., & Pollack, J. (2004).
of UQAM for his great comments. I also Management, 14, 141151. Hard and soft projects: A framework
extend my thanks to Michael Hougham for analysis. International Journal
Belout, A. (1998). Effects of human
of Henley Management College. of Project Management, 22,
resource management on project
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December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 17

Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals

Turner, J. R. (1999). Editorial: Project Westerveld, E. (2003). The project Outaouais (UQO), Canada. He holds an MSc in proj-
management: A profession based on excellence model: Linking success cri- ect management. He is about to complete his PhD
knowledge or faith. International Jour- teria and critical success factors. in business administration with a specialization in
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International Journal of Project Project Coordinators. His research interests
Management, 16, 5963. Lavagnon A. Ika is a professor of project manage- include the study of project, program, and portfo-
Wells, W. G. (1998). From the editor. Proj- ment (PM) in the Department of Administrative lio management in nontraditional settings such as
ect Management Journal, 29(4), 46. Sciences at the Universit du Qubec en international development.

18 December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

APPENDIX: Selection of the entail. There may be other articles that qualifier successful. Hence, articles
Journals and the Articles deserve to be on any best article list with titles such as Current Practice in
A quick review of the notices generated [Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002b, p. 14]). Project ManagementAn Empirical
by ABI/INFORM after the query revealed Given that 89% of the articles Study, where the title does not explicit-
that the issue of project success was reviewed were published in the 1980s ly mention project success but the list of
addressed in a variety of journals, and 1990s, compared to 1% in the 1960s keywords and the summary mentioned
including Information Technology & (Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002a, 2002b), project success criteria, were rejected.
People, AACE International Transac- we decided to limit our review to articles However, some exceptions were made
tions, Research Policy, and, of course, published in PMJ or IJPM and only con- to this rule. Articles dealing with the PIP
PMJ and IJPM. The last two scientific sider articles from the period beginning (project implementation profile), an
journals, considered the authoritative in 1980. Articles dealing with project instrument that deals explicitly with
sources in English on project manage- control that simply made reference to project success, were retained, even if
ment (Themistocleous & Wearne, 2000), the concept of project success were their titles did not include the terms
have published 15 of the 56 preliminary removed from the list. The decision to success or successful. Given the
best articles candidates, approximately keep a notice turned on an analysis of fact that certain articles could have
27%, to appear between 1960 and 1999. the notices content. As a result, we kept rather general keywords or none at all
(They were felt to be so on a subjective only those articles in which both the (Themistocleous & Wearne, 2000), we
basis without an attempt to define what title and the keywords included terms decided, in this case, to consider only
a seminal or even best article should from the research statement or the their titles during the selection process.

December 2009 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 19

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