Project Charters - What Is A Critical Success Factor?

Hello! As you know, the project charter document (which I described here) is a critical document for project success. If you’re familiar with the contents of this document, one of the sections is a ‘critical success factor’ section.

Many folks ask me for project charters, what is a critical success factor?

Well, that’s what I want to try to explain in this article. Critical success factors are the underlying principles which should be followed in a project - without which, the chances of project success will be much lower.

Some folks may think critical success factors as just “fluff”, compared to things like project objectives, scope and change control mechanisms.

Well, I beg to differ. In fact, I’d say the critical success factors are the MOST important parts of a project charter because they try to instil the correct behaviors in people for good project outcomes.

for sproject charters what is a critical success factor 1 Take the time to document critical success factors - it helps your project!

1. Project Charter

Now, before we begin, let’s do a recap on what a project charter is. I’ve got a sample here which you can download.

The project charter plays three key roles.

Sets Out Project Objectives

First, a project charter sets out very clearly the project objectives. What the project is being executed for and what success looks like.

There’s no point running a project for one year and then later realizing you’ve not achieved the benefits you want. Some more detailed charters will include cost-benefit analysis to see how much revenue or cost savings has been achieved from the project over time.

Sets Out Roles and Responsibilities

The second thing a project charter does is to specify roles and responsibilities.

It it extremely easy for us to forget our roles and responsibilities in a project. I once had a business analyst under me who went on to take over some of my project management roles, and also acted as a IT developer for the team!

Well, it was certainly good initiative on his part as a BA, but he then started losing focus on the real job - his requirements analysis work. So I had to tell him to remember his roles and responsibilities and focus back on BA work.

Sets Out Project Timeframes

The third thing a project charter does is to specify clear time frames for project delivery. All too often, timelines are unrealistic in the IT industry.

Having it in the project charter allows the team to brainstorm whether the time line is reasonable - and if so, have everyone recognize it is not movable and commit to it.

2. Critical Success Factors

Now, having understood what a project charter is, we move on to critical success factors. Critical success factors are the “design principles” of project management.

Think of it this way - if you’re building a car, you’d have some critical success factors too.

Let's say for example:

  • The car should move from 0 to 100 seconds in no more than 8 seconds.
  • The car engine should have no more than X decibels of sound when idling.

Or similar things like that.

In project management, it’s the same thing (and we’ll go into some examples later).

  • Change requests should be investigated and closed down within 5 days.
  • Business teams should appoint single point of contact for all project related matters.

Critical success factors should be flashed up whenever you have an opportunity. To senior stakeholders. To ground level operations staff. To your own team members. Use them in “roadshows” about your project.

Because constant reminder of these factors inevitably help your project’s chances of success.

3. Examples of Critical Success Factors

Here are some examples of critical success factors for your reference.

Business teams should appoint single point of contact

for all project related matters. This is very important - often I find that as a project manager, I have to run around all sorts of people in say, the account maintenance team, the trade operations team, etc.

It’s best if each of these teams appoint ONE person who works with me in the project. Any issues to and from the team go through that one person.

The timeline is critical and cannot be moved

. If this is in place as a critical success factor and grilled into the heads of users and stakeholders on day one - well, it would be much easier to get users to accept workarounds if a new system being implemented cannot get certain enhancements in by go-live date.

Those of you who have been in project roles will know exactly what I mean by this. Systems can NEVER be perfect before go-live. But many system users expect them to be so.

So what is needed is for this kind of design principle to be grilled into their heads (and their bosses’ heads) from the top management right from the start of the project.

Get basics right before doing complicated enhancements

. Another good critical success factor - when rolling out a system, we need to get the basics right first.

If I can’t even get my account opening page to work, why would I be bothered about complex customer analytics? Better to concentrate on fixing the account opening page so I can get some customers in the door first!

Regular updates between workstreams

. Another critical success factor that’s good to follow. In large projects, there will be many “workstreams”, e.g. requirements, design, development, testing, deployment.

It is critical to the success of the project that these workstreams communicate and update each other regularly.

I made the mistake in my first role as a PM for a core banking project and did not insist on this. The result? All my teams went silo and did their own thing.

In the end, the system launch had to be severely due to the many surprises each team saw towards the testing phase of the project. So, remember to instill this factor into the minds of your teams.

Wrapping Up ...

I hope the above has helped you understand that for project charters, a critical success factor is most important for achieving project success.

Define your own list, then take it out there and share it explicitly with the world. The more time you take to run through the critical success factors with others, the greater your chances of success.

Ok - and until next time, have fun drawing up your project charter!

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