Critical Success Factors in eBusiness Project Management
The results of a study into effective eBusiness project management
John Carroll is a project management consultant, based in the South West of England, with many years
experience of software development project management. In recent years this has increasingly involved
eBusiness projects, often using some of the more radical software development techniques, such as rapid
application development (RAD), extreme programming and the like. One question that often gets asked in this
environment is: do the traditional project management methodologies and processes apply to these fast-moving
projects or are they now inappropriate? A review of current literature seemed to indicate that this question had
not previously been researched and hence the need for this study.
Following a review of critical success factors, a questionnaire was developed to probe for these and other factors
in a project. This evolved into a number of questions about the methodology and life-cycles used on a project,
together with questions about the project management processes used. The initial process questions were based
on the 44 processes defined by the PMBOK (PMI, 2004). But as these did not cover all the success factors
identified, a further six areas were defined, based on PRINCE2 (OGC, 2002):
Active and committed top-management support
Full involvement of the end-users right through the project
Establishment of a business case for the project
Project team empowerment through management by exception
A formal issue management process
A formal configuration management process
Finally questions were added to cover the basic demographic data of the projects, project managers, project
resolutions and success criterion. The questionnaire was placed on the Project Management Institute (PMI) and
the British Computer Society (BCS) Project Management Specialist Group (PROMS-G) web sites with a request
for volunteers. Unfortunately, this produced no response, so the members of the PMI eBusiness Special Interest
Group (EBSIG) were emailed directly along with the author’s associates and clients. This direct approach
produced 26 responses which were then analysed.
The project managers in the sample were aged between 27 and 62 (with an average age of 45), they had
between 2 and 36 years project management experience (average 14 years) and were predominantly male
(81%). This probably reflected the bias towards professional project managers in the sample group.
Traditionally project size has been measured in the duration, cost and number of people working on the project.
However, it was decided that cost was too vague a metric as some businesses do not cost internal staff and
others include computer hardware and operating costs. Work effort (people/days) was seen as a more suitable
metric so, for this study, project size was measured in terms of duration (months), work effort (days) and
maximum number of people working on the project at any one time. Table 1 displays the results and shows that
the average project lasted around 7 months, required 930 days work effort and had a maximum of 18 people on
the project at any one time.
Work effort (days)
Number of people (max)
Table 1: Project Size
In terms of the project resolution, 33% of the projects in the sample were successful (i.e. completed on-time,
within budget and with all required features and functionality) which is fairly close to the Standish (2004) result of
29% and their previous result of 34%. However, 63% of the projects in this survey were challenged (i.e. did not
meet one or more of the three success criteria) and 4% (one project) failed (was abandoned or not implemented).
This compares to the Standish figures of 53% challenged and 18% failed. Initially it was thought that the lower
failure rate might be indicative of eBusiness projects, but there was no evidence to support this view. What was
thought more likely was that, it represented a bias in the experience level of the sample group or a reluctance to
give details of failed projects.
Of the challenged projects: 40% were still on time, 53% were still within budget and 73% were still feature
complete. Again this can be compared to Standish (2004) results of 18% on time, 57% within budget and 52%
feature complete. So the eBusiness projects seem to have a better record of being on-time and feature-complete
than general IT projects. In this case there was also evidence to support this conclusion with eBusiness projects
frequently using techniques such as time-boxing and the evolution of functionality which would encourage these
The questionnaire asked the project managers to rate how critical to the success of a project they considered
each of the 50 processes to be and whether or not they had used it on their project. Responses were scored on a
scale of 1 to 5, with 4 being critical and 5 very critical. While all 50 processes had criticality means of between 4
and 5, the top-10 processes were selected based on their criticality means and percentage use as shown in
Project Management Process
Used on %
1 Monitor and Control Project Work
2 Scope Change Control
3 Top management support
4 Acquire Project Team
5 Activity Resource Estimating
7 Full user involvement
8 Preliminary Project Scope Statement 4.69
10 Project Management Plan
Table 2: Top-10 Processes
It is worth noting that four of these critical process areas had not been identified by previous surveys: monitoring
and controlling project work; acquiring the project team; control of the schedule; and producing a project
management plan. It was felt that there was sufficient justification, and that a case could be made, for defining
these as being specific to eBusiness projects.
The processes were further analysed to see if any correlation could be found between their use and the likelihood
of project success. Two of these (top-management support and full user involvement) were already in the top ten
above, the other five were:
The most popular methodology in use turned out to be an in-house methodology as opposed to the use of
PMBOK or PRINCE2 (see Figure 1). However, further investigation indicated that these in-house methodologies
were often based, in whole or in part, on one or the other of these mainstream methodologies.
Figure 1: Project Management Methodology Used
Somewhat more surprisingly, 50% of the projects using an in-house methodology turned out successfully as
compared to less than 10% of the projects using PMBOK or PRINCE2. We can assume than an organisation that
has defined an in-house methodology will almost certainly be more supportive of the project management
process and will be higher up the capability maturity model than one that has not. This in turn would suggest that
better project resolutions could be expected in this environment, which may account for the difference.
Figure 2 shows the analysis of the software development life cycles (SDLC) used and again the surprise factor
here was that nearly half of the projects still used the classic waterfall SDLC and a further 16% used a
combination of waterfall plus RAD or spiral. In terms of the success ratio: 42% of the projects using classic
waterfall were successful; compared to 33% of the projects using waterfall and RAD; and only 20% of the
projects using RAD alone. There were no successful projects using incremental, evolutionary or spiral life cycles.
So it would seem that the classic waterfall is still the most widely used and successful SDLC on eBusiness
Waterfall + Spiral
Waterfal + RAD
Figure 2: Software Development Life Cycles Used
In addition to the basic research question, the study also set out to explore three hypotheses:
1. Firstly, that project managers would use the processes they believed to be critical to project success. This
was fully supported by the data and the project managers in our sample did indeed use the processes they
thought were most critical and they did not use the ones they thought were less critical, so no surprises
2. Secondly, there would be a positive correlation between the level of experience of the project manager and
the success of the project. This was not supported by the data and in fact the less experienced project
managers were just as likely, if not more so, to have a successful project. It should be noted that none of our
project managers had less than two years experience and arguably first-time project managers would be
most likely to run into problems. Nevertheless, it does show that length of experience on its own does not
guarantee project success for an eBusiness project.
3. Finally, there would be an inverse relationship between the size of a project and the likelihood of success.
This one had the most interesting results. The three items of size data (duration, work effort and number of
people) were analysed into three bands (small, medium and large) each representing around a third of the
projects. As expected there was indeed a higher rate of success on the small projects but, with the exception
of duration, the large projects had a better success rate than the medium projects (see Table 3). Further
study suggested that one possible reason could be that large projects have full-time resources allocated to
them while medium projects are often staffed by part-time team members. This could lead to time conflicts
and delays (time overruns representing the most frequent reason for a project being chal enged). Whatever
the reason, there was no such issue with project duration where short-duration projects (less than 6 months)
were successful 50% of the time, medium-duration projects (6 to 9 months) were successful 40% of the time
and there were no successful projects of over 9 months duration.
No of People
Table 3: Percentage of successful projects by size criteria
The most encouraging conclusion to be drawn from these results is that the traditional project management
processes and methodologies (as defined by the PMBOK) are alive and well and just as relevant to eBusiness
projects. The other major conclusions are:
The top-10 critical processes for an eBusiness project have been identified and these include four processes
that have not traditionally been associated with critical project success factors.
Five additional processes have been shown to have a strong correlation to project success in an eBusiness
project and their use is to be encouraged.
The use of an in-house project management methodology coupled with the classic waterfall SDLC are the
most likely to result in a successful eBusiness project.
The duration of an eBusiness project is the most critical size factor and projects exceed nine months at their
On the basis of these results, it is recommended that all organisations which have not yet defined their own
project management methodology should consider doing so based on PMBOK and/or PRINCE2 best practice.
That methodology should also incorporate guidelines of which the most significant is that eBusiness project
duration should not exceed nine months.
From a personal perspective the author has been able to use these results to gain a better understanding of the
project management of an eBusiness project, to develop an effective eBusiness project management course and
define a service to assist organisations in implementing in-house project management methodology.
The full results of the survey are available at www.carroll.co.uk and for more information on any aspects of the
study please email John Carroll at email@example.com with your interest.
Office of Government Commerce (2002) Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. London: The Stationery Office.
Project Management Institute (2004) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition (PMBOK® Guide).
Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Standish Group (2004) Excerpt from Third Quarter 2004. 2004 Quarterly Reports [online]. The Standish Group. Available at
http://www.standishgroup.com/sample_research/PDFpages/q3-spotlight.pdf [accessed 18/11/2005].