12 steps to ensure a successful project

12 steps to ensure a successful project

Research by the Association for Project Management (APM) has revealed the key to project success and
the impact that the failure to apply this knowledge can have on projects, programmes and portfolios.


Ian Clarkson | 21 July 2015

APM training courses

Why do projects fail?

It's a much-discussed question in offices throughout the world. Granted, the conversation may start with something seemingly unrelated, like "will Liverpool make it into the Champions League next season?" (I hope so). This prompts the obvious follow-up question "well...why didn't Liverpool make it into the Champions League last season?", and the topic of conversation (naturally!) leads onto "why do projects fail?" (well, it does in my world!). The 12 project success factors identified by the APM are sure to generate discussions to fuel this debate and as you read them, think about how you would summarise them to someone entering the discussion.

  1. Set clear roles and responsibilities in advance

    Before the start of any project, make sure there is clearly identified leadership, responsibilities, reporting lines and communications between all parties. This will ensure smooth and effective governance.

  2. Specify and agree upon a clear project goal

    The overall goal of the project must be clearly specified and agreed to by all stakeholders. Make sure the goal isn't in conflict with any other business objectives and that the project leaders have a clear vision of the project outcomes.

  3. Make sure all parties are committed to project success

    It is clearly vital that all parties are committed to the success of the project throughout its duration. Any lack of commitment must be recognised and dealt with swiftly, and the project leaders should continually strive to inspire commitment in others.

  4. Make sure all project teams are competent

    Assess your team's competence and place team members on a relevant training course if they are not up to speed. Everyone involved in the project should be fully competent and engage in positive behaviours that encourage success.

  5. Be sure to involve the project sponsors throughout

    Sponsors assume ultimate responsibility and accountability for the project outcomes so it is vital they play an active role in the lifecycle of the project and are kept informed of developments.

  6. Secure funding and plan for contingencies

    A secure funding base is essential, and it is important to plan for contingency funding. However, there must also be tight controls of the budget in order to ensure that maximum value is realised.

  7. Plan the project thoroughly

    Pre-project planning has to be thorough and considered, and there has to be regular and careful progress monitoring throughout. The project must also have realistic time schedules, active risk management and a post-project review.

  8. Foster a project-friendly environment

    Projects are always more likely to be successful in organisations that provide support and resourcing for project activity and access to stakeholders, so getting the company on-board with the project is crucial.

  9. Get end users engaged with the project

    End users and operators should be engaged during all stages of the project, from design to implementation and review. Effective user adoption is key - users need to be able to take on what the project has produced effectively and efficiently.

  10. Align the supply chain

    All direct and indirect suppliers need to be aware of project needs, schedules and quality standards. Higher and lower tiers of supply chains should be coordinated.

  11. Apply best-practice project management tools

    Good practice project management tools, methods and techniques should be applied in a way that maintains an effective balance between flexibility and robustness.

  12. Adhere to appropriate quality standards throughout

    Quality standards should be actively used to drive quality of outputs. Adherence to other standards ought to be regularly monitored in order to ensure delivery is to best-practice levels.


The APM in their Body of Knowledge define success factors as "management practices that, when implemented, will increase the likelihood of success. The degree to which these practices are embedded within an organisation indicates its level of maturity."

Using this definition, how would you summarise these 12 success factors to someone entering the "why do projects fail?" discussion?

Would you summarise the same as me; success factors are management practices rather than any technical aspects – they do not say "the project didn't work", or "the system didn't perform as expected", for example. How mature is your own organisation in project management?


For more guidance browse our project management training courses.


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* Information taken from the 2015 APM research report.


QA Training | Ian Clarkson

Ian Clarkson

Head of Project Management

Dr Ian Clarkson is Head of Project and Programme Management at QA, providing business direction and ownership of QA’s portfolio, programme, project and risk management curriculum. Ian is an experienced lecturer, author, speaker and consultant, having delivered programmes and projects in all industry sectors. This extensive hands-on experience coupled with a background in education has made Ian well-known and highly respected in his field. Ian currently works with a team of highly experienced lecturers and consultants helping organisations excel in all aspects of portfolio, programme, project and risk management.
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