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Identifying Success Factors in Construction Projects: A Case Study

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Management of International Project

Identifying Success Factors in Construction Projects: A Case Study (Summary).


Teacher: Nuno Filipe Lopes Moutinho

Student: Chisomaga Chidiebere, Anyanwu


The nature of success has been of interest for many years; indeed, the Project Management Institute held a whole conference dedicated to the topic, looking at the multi-faceted nature of the idea of “success,” particularly where success is defined beyond the simple acceptance of a product.

This article expands on the extension of the ideas of systemicity into the current predominately linear dominant discourse of project management by looking at a particular case of projects as practice. By looking at the inter-connectedness, the study outlines how to identify the root causes of success factors, particularly where those root causes enable multiple success criteria simultaneously.

Was it real? What does “success” mean? And, where did this success come from? This article reports the results, mainly drawing lessons about the nature of success and the inter-relatedness and complexity of success factors, and also identifying a number of key reasons for company success—some generic, and some context-dependent—but potentially useful for other projects. The article considers the method and then the case; it looks at the literature around the definition of project success and how this case compares; it looks at the literature behind success factors; then at the analysis of this case to see the interacting nature of the factors and the tracing of success outcomes back to root causes. This study therefore looks at the drivers for the various success factors, to see where they inter-connect, and what the key root causes of project success are.


In order to capture the view of inter-connectedness and systemicity of the factors, this study used “causal maps” to plot out what caused what, and how these causal chains and combinations led to project success—a type of analysis becoming used more in project management, as analysts try to understand the complexity of projects . The maps were projected on a screen by the author, so all workshop participants could see the causal structure being generated and contribute explanations (all discussions were led by the author rather than using the multi-computer “Group Explorer” system, whereby all participants directly contribute to the model).

The first workshop entailed staff with an overview of the construction process, including directors, project, site, and commercial managers and planners; it was not clear that there was sufficient knowledge of the later stages of a project, so the second workshop also included Facilities Management (FM). The first part of each workshop sought to define “project success,” starting from a “blank sheet of paper.” Following this, the diagram was built by chaining back in causality by asking “Why?” or “What caused this?” Again, “grounded” in the sense that no external “best-practice” or literature-initiated input was given to the workshop. This study of a project program was more akin to the latter; workshops were fairly small, in this case approximately 8 to 10 participants, carefully chosen with an appropriate mix of skills to ensure coverage of the main knowledge areas, and provide the opportunity for participants to “piggy back” off each other's knowledge and memories, challenge views, and together develop a comprehensive overview.

The use of the workshops was a very efficient use of the time of the teams, which was very limited; a study that sought to be fully auditable would have spent a subsequent phase revising and checking the logic of these diagrams; as they stand, however, they represent the views of the teams.

The evidence came from a wide variety of sources, including site statistics, defect data, safety statistics, externally executed employee engagement surveys, subcontractor payment statistics, customer satisfaction data, evidence of community engagement; “considerate constructor” actions taken to increase community satisfaction, such as behaviour codes near a school; employee posters displayed around sites; architect selection scoring sheets, the supplier database, supplier inquiry documentation, and selected meeting minutes.

The Case

The first, Building Schools for the Future (BSF) aimed to refurbish or rebuild every secondary school in England over 15 years; the second, the Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) programs, involved building health facilities. With these two programs coming to an end, with the expectation that teams would start to be dismantled, this seemed to be a good opportunity to try to capture where the teams’ success came from, if indeed they had been successful.

It became clear that there weren't one or two individual “magic bullets,” rather a number of factors came together to produce success, strengthening the approach taken. The workshops looked at the programs overall, but grounded discussions in four cases—two schools and two health units—one of each being a notably larger contract than the other.

The Project Success

This threefold criterion of success—meeting cost, schedule, and performance targets—has in the decades since become widely used as a standard success criterion often called the “iron triangle.” Barnes, sometimes credited with inventing the “iron triangle,” states (with particular reference to construction projects) that “the client's objectives are always a combination of the objectives for performance of the completed scheme, for achieving this performance within a named cost or budgetary limit and for getting the project into use by a target date”

This characterizes a project's success in five ways: (1) efficiency (Could the outputs have been produced in a better way? Was the project well managed?); (2) effectiveness (Were the goals achieved? Did the output meet the goals?); (3) relevance (How useful was the project to the organization in context? Was the goal aligned with the needs of the organization?); (4) impact (was the goal appropriate to the purpose of the organization? What was the sum of the anticipated/unintended effects of the project?); and (5) sustainability (Will the positive impacts of the project continue longer term?).



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