Framing of project critical success factors by a systems model

Fortune, Joyce and White, Diana (2006). Framing of project critical success factors by a systems model. International Journal of Project Management, 24(1) pp. 53–65.



Perhaps the best known approach for tackling the human and organisational aspects of projects is through the use of ‘critical success factors’ but although the approach has very many champions it is not without its critics. This paper sets out the findings of a major review of the sets of factors that are available and outlines the main reservations that have been expressed about the approach. It then shows how a systems model, the Formal Systems Model, can be used as a framing device to deliver the benefits of taking account of ‘critical success factors’ whilst at the same time avoiding the problems associated with ‘critical success factors’ that give rise to the criticisms.
Two IS projects are used to demonstrate use of this framing devise. When observation began at the start of the projects they looked very similar and equally likely to succeed. In the event, one of the projects was largely successful across the whole of the range of measures normally used to judge success whilst the other exhibited most of the characteristics of failure. Analysis using the framing device is well able to demonstrate the marked differences in the ways the two projects were managed and to account for stark contrast in the levels of success achieved. The paper concludes that the Formal System Model allows the underlying benefits of ‘critical success factors’ to be secured whilst overcoming most of the problems associated with a checklist approach.

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