Success Criteria Adherence in Information Systems Projects. A Case Study on Brazilian Companies

Master's Thesis, 2017

44 Pages, Grade: A

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This paper objective is to raise practices and success criteria considered to be at the literature vanguard regarding success in information system (IS) projects performance. Besides, this work also aims to evaluate success criteria adherence from a sample of large Brazilian companies of various economic segments. To support this study were interviewed senior project management professionals with background in IS project, totaling seventeen different companies surveyed. From the results collected in this research, it was possible to infer that, in general, companies adopt formal practices to measure their IS projects results. However, most companies still analyze their projects from the unique point of view of their implementation, based on the so-called triple constraint concept, represented by cost, time and requirements (scope) indicators. Measurement concepts considered more advanced, especially those related to the expansion of the success analysis on more general aspects of the organization, such as the impacts brought by the projects to the enterprise processes, as well as on the strategic goals, however, are not yet majorities. Finally, there was a more restricted set of practices with even less occurrences, but which indicates that, at least in part, Brazilian companies adopt the most avant-garde concepts in their fullness. Based on these findings, this study stratified the practices presented in three distinct sets, presenting as a suggestion that companies adopt as a way to obtain better result at least the first two.


Keywords: Information Systems (IS); Project Performance Indicators; Project Management; Projects; Project Success.


Projects are not seen only as elements that enable disciplined technical changes implementation, but also as a means to improve business. In this sense, organizations should keep in mind that success or failure in these actions may be directly related to their strategic performance (ANDERSEN; JESSEN, 2002; RAUNIAR; RAWSKI, 2012; BERSANETTI; CARVALHO, 2014).

Project failures, however, bring financial losses to companies. According to The Chaos Manifesto report, only in 2013 were invested about US $ 750 billion in projects involving Information Systems (IS) around the world, resulting in US $ 200 billion losses, representing 26.7% of the total amount invested (THE STANDARD GROUP, 2013). Data from 2014, on the other hand, show that only 16.2% of IS projects were completed within the expected time frames and costs, and that, on average, presented these indicators deviation of 222% and 189%, respectively. In addition, completed projects deliver, on average, only 61% of the originally expected outcomes (THE STANDISH GROUP, 2014).

By involved numbers, it can be said that the theme is representative of companies, especially considering that, according to Hilletofht et al. (2009), the current level of competitiveness among companies requires an ever-increasing variety of products and solutions, making companies find themselves in frequent process of change.


A common feature of contemporary organizations is the large volume of transactions involved in their business processes, and the need for constant changes within organizational structures and processes. In this sense, Mabert and Venkataram (1998); Hult et al. (2004) consider Information Technology (IT) fundamental to the company operational effectiveness, since it is one of the elements that enables business processes establishment and operationalization, both by supporting information sharing, and by coordinating competitive initiatives (FROHLICH, 2002; WU et al., 2006). For Hékis et al. (2013), information systems (IS) usage provides advantages deriving from these processes optimization, as well as better information quality for decision making. Thus, the IS adoption enhances the value aggregation, and increases organizational efficiency.

To Hilletofht et al. (2009), companies are demanding an ever-increasing variety of products and solutions to achieve and maintain competitiveness, being in frequent change processes. Changes, according to Hornstein (2015), imply in projects implementation to promote these changes in organizations. This fact was also pointed by Griffith-Cooper and King (2007), and also by Serra and Kunc (2015), explaining that business community itself recognizes projects a structured way of implementing organizational changes. Thus, projects can be considered an effective instrument to make changes in the business context, creating innovation conditions (HILLETOFT et al., 2009; PMBOK, 2017).

However, project sucess definition is ambiguous and difficult to measure, since a project may have been completed during its design and execution without, in many times, bring the expected benefits to the organization (McLEAN, 2003). In this sense, despite the growing importance of projects in the business environment, as stated by Marques Junior et al. (2011), most do not meet their goals, which means that do not achieve the desired success.

In this sense, the main objective of this work is to evaluate the adherence of success measurement criteria in Information Systems (IS) projects in a sample of large companies of various business sectors, but which represent a significant and relevant share of the brazilian economy.

This paper main objective is formed by the following secondary objectives: a) identify in the available literature, effective measurements criteria for IS projects success; b) check, within the surveyed companies, IS projects success criteria applied on, and; c) propose a set of indicators to measure IS projects success, both based on the literature, within the researched field.

This work also considered some assumptions, based on the IS projects main success categories analysis, identified from the bibliographic review: i) the adoption of cutting-edge practices, when considered specific sectors, as the financial, and/or its controlling capital origin, its size or activity sector, or the implemented IS project type or size; ii) relevant firms, according to the sample surveyed, whether they use formalized processes and mechanisms, and internal knowledge available to measure performance, applied to IS projects initiatives; iii) success measures extend over the entire project life cycle, covering all phases of product development and delivery; iv) existence of a single and definitive concept of IS projects success accepted by all stakeholders involved in this project context.

For this, this work was conducted based on exploratory and descriptive research aspects, using both the elements contained in the bibliography to delimit the research field, as well as information obtained from national companies to support statements, characterizing it as a case study (LAKATOS; MARCONI, 2010).

This paper is organized in six sections. Firstly, in this, work context is presented, including the research problem, as well as research justification. After, in section two, it is stated a literature review about criteria for success applied to IS projects. The third section describes methodology used in the study. The fourth section presents the data analysis and discussion, based on project management professionals research. Finally, section five presents final considerations about this work results, and suggestions for new research. The bibliographic references used are also included in this last section.



Research carried out by The Standish Group (2013), focusing on Information System (IS) projects, revealed that between the years of 2009 and 2013 about 20% of the total projects started in that period faced failures, becoming completely unfeasible. When success concept was extrapolated to other factors, such as customer and project sponsor satisfaction, business value creation, and strategic goals adherence, the failure rate is even higher, reaching astonishing 1.2% of those projects being concluded with success. More recent figures, from the same institute, confirm this trend.

However, the success definition itself may vary according to the criteria considered in the analysis. Such low rates can be justified based on what Turner and Serrador (2014) argue, that effective project success must consider not only the triple constraint metrics, but also broader metrics that measure project impacts over the organization.

Marques Junior (2011) commented that, despite the growing importance of projects in organizations, the discussion about success is still open, based on the fact that the majority of IS projects does not meet its goals, not achieving the desired success.

Not infrequently, according to Turner and Zolin (2012), projects completed on time and within the expected cost left investors unhappy because they failed to deliver the expected benefits. In the same way, many initiatives with substantial delays and cost overruns were considered a success.

In this sense, there seems to be a dilemma regarding the evaluation of success in IS projects. If, on the one hand, it is claimed that losses and failures are considerable, on the other hand, there does not seem to be a common understanding of what success is, or how to effectivelly measure it (PRABHAKAR, 2009; THE STAND GROUP, 2014)

Davis (2014), in retrospect of success studies in Project Management, mentions that in the 1970s, discussions on this subject felt on operational issues, such as techniques and tools usages to control project results, and customers importance in this matter. From the 1980s and 1990s, the need to expand the success analysis over broader perspectives than the efficiency metrics, represented by the triple constraint, which according to the PMBOK (2017), raised the need to control cost, scope and time in a synergistic and integrated way, since changes in one of these dimensions cause impacts in the other two. From the 2000s, studies have pointed to the expansion of Stakeholder influence on success, as well as a greater focus on Critical Success Factors, and the differentiation of success analyzes from different industries point of view. Researches are currently attempting to relate success to the product life cycle.


The clear definition of goals and objectives at the beginning of a project is considered an essential condition for this project to achive good performance, as long it can be adherent to organizational general objectives (PINTO; SLEVIN, 1987).

However, according to Barclay and Osei-Bryson (2010), the vast perception about the performance definition itself presents great difficulty in measuring IS projects success (or failure). In this sense, unclear and incomplete objectives contribute even more to the failure perception.

For McLeod et al. (2012), understanding a project's success or failure is still an incomplete and fragmented issue. However, it can be said that success concept has been expanded to encompass an ever wider range of objectives, as well as perspectives from different stakeholders. In addition, authors argue that the success concept is relative, varying in each project, according to the type, industry and context, making the discussion much more complex than the duality of success or failure evaluation.

Therefore, the definition of clear criteria for project acceptance is needed to avoid situations in which the project presents a certain success level, but final results do not add value to the business itself. In addition, from the project planning initial phase, scope must be validated with main stakeholders, so that be clear to all involved people what is included and what is outside this project scope boundaries (PMBOK; 2017).

Thus, according to Mir and Pinnington (2014), organizations should invest in their projects performance measurement structures as a way to ensure that their time, effort and financial resources are better allocated, increasing these ventures success likelihood. According to authors, a formal project success measurement system, which guarantees a clear and correct project efficiency measurement, also tends to positively impact the project team, contributing to this team motivation and engagement, which contributes to proposed goals achievement.

Chih and Zwikael (2015) argue that the presence of results measurement structured process can be considered a prerequisite to achieving success in projects. For authors, the creation of mechanisms to define and calculate targets should occurs on initial stages of the project, regardless of the project management approach adopted. In this sense, authors point out that the more traditional view tends to focus more on aspects related to the project efficiency measurement, such time, costs and specifications, sometimes leaving aside aspects related to organizational benefits generated by these projects. However, authors suggest a recent tendency to place greater emphasis on multidimensional and value-related aspects, thus broadening the focus of analysis and interest on the topic.

Badewi (2016) considers that success must presuppose clear metrics existence, besides a proactive management of the person or area in charge of this project. The author also argues that project success can be analyzed under multiple aspects, considering both the management point of view of the organization, the financial perspective, and the inestment return, from the project efficiency point of view, and return to the organization, as well as impacts of the project results to the other stakeholders, in addition to future potential gains.


One of the challenges observed in the current management context concerns both the preparation of the project initial budget for costs, schedule with deadlines, and required resources. For Doherty et al. (2012), from the organization perspective, a project only achieves success if it is able to deliver benefits that exceed incurred costs. Authors suggest that companies adopting a clear perspective of seeking benefits from business change and transformation, rather than achieving them only through IS delivery solutions, seeking to obtain superior results, consider a holistic perspective of the whole process, not just the solution deployed itself.

In this sense, according to the PMBOK (2017), the project success should be measured against the last baseline approved by the Project Manager and appropriate Stakeholders, such as the project sponsor, and the senior management team, considering aspects related to the scope, costs, time, quality, resources and risks.

For Serra and Kunc (2015), special attention should be paid to the business plan and metrics to financial returns defined at the beginning of this project. Such metrics are important both in the project approval and also in their closure, making them relevant for the project success perception.

Badewi (2016) also cites the importance of a business plan definition, prior to the project start, as well as constant results monitoring and reporting, as one of the key factors for successful project investments.


According to Wit (1988), the project progress, costs and quality measurements are essential for this project management to control, and should be considered prerequisites for the project success as a whole, but not enough to ensure their ultimate success.

Baccarini (1999) proposes that the success analysis be given under the project effectiveness point of view, that is, in relation to the proposed objectives achievement degree, taking as basis a project hierarchical view, from different levels. Initially, according to the author, one must evaluate success from the project general objective point of view, relating it to the organization strategic goals; in the sequence, one must analyze the success from the point of view of the effects brought to the users from its use. Next, it is suggested to evaluate tangible results obtained from the deliveries to processes measurement, finalizing with the analysis of necessary resources usage during this project implementation, in concept near to the project efficiency, measured by the triple restriction.

Regarding the financial benefits generated from the implementation of information systems perspective, it is assumed that part of the obtained gains are intangible, hindering their measurement and financial evaluation through the traditional approach, using metrics such as payback, discounted cash flow, internal return rate, and net present value. Balancing quantitative and qualitative metrics, since aligned with the organization's strategic objectives, tends to be a more efficient way to make such evaluation. In this way, it is suggested to customize the goals and objectives according to each level, or decision layer, covering both short and long term objectives (ROSEMANN; WIESE, 1999; SEDERA et al., 2001; STEWART; MOHAMED, 2001).

Fairchild (2002) adds that the project success evaluation should also consider a set of indicators, whether qualitative or quantitative, that are related to the organization strategic objectives.

Muller and Turner (2007) argue that the success perception can be variable and personal, that is, what is success for one may not be for another. Thus, it is importante that organizations do not adopt subjective criteria. So, it is necessary to study standards and conditions for certain criteria use, in favor of others, pondering each available criterion importance, according to the project type, industry, and project managers profiles.

Ogunlana et al. (2010) stated that the triple restriction continues to be widely accepted and used. However, new metrics are being increasingly accepted in the industry, reflecting the current business context. Authors cite, for example, new organizational functions incorporated in the results elaboration and monitoring, increasing in importance given to users demands, as well as the regulatory environment reflection on these metrics. In this way, authors argue not only for a criteria expansion, but also for the fact that there are different initiatives according to each project, reflecting the differences in context and stakeholder demands, and also points of view involved.

McLeod et al. (2012) summarize several criteria proposed in the literature from three perspectives: i) success in the project, based on the triple constraint; ii) success in the product as measured by product use, customer satisfaction and benefits, and; iii) success for organization, evaluated by the benefits generated to the business and strategic goals.

For Cecez-Kecmanovic et al. (2014), the project success evaluation for IS presupposes calculating the benefits generated from tangible and non-tangible factors, arising from the automation that the project brings, or functionality involved in the process. However, the project’s results evaluation, and consequently the success or failure definition, does not always take into account a sufficient time to stabilize the project solution, so that the organization may have not be adapted to the new reality, thus not obtaining the maximum value from this deployment. In this way, given the continuous reconfiguration of the relationships between the agents involved in the process, the performance measured for a project can vary according to the measurement period.

Mir and Pinnington (2014) point out, however, that projects differ in size and complexity, as well as they can be influenced by the economic context, which makes that success criteria vary in each situation, making it unlikely to define a single set metrics to assess project success.

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Success Criteria Adherence in Information Systems Projects. A Case Study on Brazilian Companies
Methodist University of Piracicaba  (Business and Organization Management)
Master in Business Administration
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Since leaving university, I have held various posts in significant companies, undertaking important projects related with a vary range of disciplines, like IT - both system and infrastructure - but also Finance, Corporate Strategy, Operations Management and Marketing & Business Development.
success, brazilian, project management, information system
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Gustavo Vieira (Author), 2017, Success Criteria Adherence in Information Systems Projects. A Case Study on Brazilian Companies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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