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What Are the Critical Success Factors for Project Improvement?

Posted by Deborah Bigelow Crawford

Deborah Bigelow Crawford has more than 20 years of experience in business management and handles the operational and administrative functions of PM Solutions. Ms. Bigelow Crawford also serves as President of the PM College®, PM Solutions' training division, where she is responsible for the fiscal management and quality assurance of all training and professional development programs. Prior to joining PM Solutions, she served as the Executive Director of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and was instrumental in providing the foundation and infrastructure for the exponential growth that the Institute has maintained over the last 10 years. In addition, she served as the Executive Director of the PMI Educational Foundation. Over the last decade, she has authored numerous articles in PM Network, Chief Project Officer, and Optimize magazines. Ms. Bigelow Crawford is also co-author of the book Project Management Essentials. She has presented a variety of papers as a speaker at international symposia and conferences, and is a member of the National Association of Female Executives and the Project Management Institute.

Several of our team just came back from PMI’s PMO Symposium.  There continues to be a buzz on the evolution of the PMO and the exciting new things happening in project management.  This year, Benefits Realization was a predominant theme.  But I’ve talked a lot about benefits realization over the last few months…we even developed a diagnostic tool for this event…go to benefits.questionpro.com to diagnose your organization!  However, for this blog, I wanted to go back to the question, What Are the Critical Success Factors for Project Improvement

Last year, some of the leading factors of success in project improvement were posted on InfoQ by Shane Hastie and Stéphane Wojewoda.  These factors included Executive Sponsorship; Emotional Maturity (soft skills); User Involvement; Optimization; and, Skilled Resources. 

Skilled Resources is definitely a no brainer … however, this is where they saw a real shortfall.  Investing in people takes time but it offers a much bigger payout in the end.  At least three of the factors mentioned in this 2015 Standish Group report could be improved with training.  However, it is one of the first things cut when there is a “budget crunch.”

Another element that is seen as a critical success factor for performance improvement is a Project Management Office.  Basically, there are six primary components to any PMO, which grow in capability and complexity. Those functions are:

  1. Processes, standards and methodologies
  2. Project Managers
  3. Training/Professional Development
  4. Project Support
  5. Software Tools
  6. Mentoring and Coaching

Why are the PMO and training initiatives so closely linked with the success of project management within organizations?  Basically because it is the PMO that develops and maintains standards and processes, and through training and mentoring garners executive support, and develops experienced project managers. My guess is that the 71% of failed or challenged projects mentioned in the Standish report  did not have an effective PMO in place, which would be responsible for establishing these key ingredients for success, within their organization.

Implementing a PMO is not easy.  Bringing in a targeted training program can be just as challenging. Both cost money and are considered overhead.  This is why we should be measuring and validating the project performance improvement.

If your organization still struggles with project success, what are you doing to improve this?  Give us your thoughts on what is working for you!

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