Theories on determination of Critical Success Factors (CSFs) for the success of construction projects

By Priya Chetty on January 24, 2020

Presence of uncertainties in the budget, technology, and development process makes construction projects dynamic in nature. With the increase in project complexities and difficulties in building infrastructure facilities, unprecedented changes are taking place in the building construction industry (Esmaeili, Pellicer and Molenaar, 2014). The building construction industry plays a key role in the sustainable development of a country due to its association with the living style of people. However, it is plagued with problems such as lack of communication, fragmented nature of construction, and coordination issues. These problems affect the productivity and performance of the project.

The success of the construction industry is based on the determination of better results compared to expectation in terms of schedule, cost, safety, and quality (Ramlee et al., 2016). There are many theories which have identified different critical success factors. Different authors relate the performance of the industry to a variety of theoretical concepts. This article aims to review theories related to building construction projects.

Pinto’s theory of success (1986) 

Pinto (1986) is one of the very few scholars who have been cited often in the research studies for their immense contribution to identifying the critical success factors (CSFs) in the project success. It is also declared that the theories that followed Pinto’s have been developed on this and are merely an extension and refinement of the topic. While project success is a commonly desired aim, Pinto and Slevin (1986) raised concern over the lack of consensus over what actually the term “project success” means. They highlighted that there exist no universally accepted parameters to measure the success of the project. Pinto and Slevin (1986) avowed that project implementation is complicated and thus for the project success, it is important to identify critical success factors that can be taken care of to enhance the project success rates.

Pinto's theory (1986) of success for construction projects
Figure 1: Pinto’s theory (1986) of success for construction projects

(Wang, 2013) claim that Pinto and Slevin (1986) were the pioneers to put forward a scientific basis for project success. They established ten critical success factors which are often considered as the key predictors of the project success. These CSFs are:

  • client approval,
  • aim of the project mission,
  • communication,
  • involvement of the client,
  • top management support,
  • enough contingency plans in place,
  • appropriate supervision and feedback,
  • the aptness of the technology,
  • project schedules/plan and,
  • project personnel (Wang, 2013).

Ika, (2009) elaborated further on this by adding that these ten critical success factors are more or less manageable or controllable by the project management team. Pinto and Slevin (1986) thus extended their theory and added four elements outside the project management process and largely uncontrollable. These are:

  • attributes of the project team leader,
  • environmental occurrences,
  • power and politics and,
  • contingency. 

Belassi & Tukel’s theory of success (1996)

Belassi and Tukel, (1996) designed a theory of success that comprised of factors governing the performance of a project under four major heads. This was an expansion of project success and failure factors as identified by Schultz et al. as cited in Belassi and Tukel ­(1996).

Belassi & Tukel's theory of success for construction projects
Figure 2: Belassi & Tukel’s theory of success for construction projects

On one hand, referring to Schultz et al. Belassi and Tukel­ (1996) stated that the former categorized factors under two categories namely strategic and tactical. The factors identified by the later are the project manager and team member related factors, project-related factor, organisation related factors and external environment-related factors. 

This is a modern theory as it focuses on the importance of the human in a project and emphasizes the role played by team members and project manager. In prior studies, significant emphasis was laid upon organisational factors. However, Kureshi, (2013) notified that the success of both that are projected on one hand and organisation, on the other hand, are strongly related to each other. The theory by Belassi and Tukel ­(1996) also accepted that modern-day business environment and projects undertaken are highly complex and thus need a broader perspective of success and failure. The theory also postulated that projects have a diversity which adds to their complexity.

Theory of success by Belassi & Tukel a better fit for construction projects

The success factors identified by Belassi and Tukel are considered to be critical success factors as denoted by Kureshi, (2013). These factors namely the organisation related and those related to project managers are positively associated with a project and thus play a dominant role in the performance of the project. Thus, these factors are critical and thereby justify the deployment of the theory of success by Belassi and Tukel (1996).

In recent times, Tavana, (2017) while discussing the framework needed for performance evaluation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) notified that this theory of success is noteworthy as it helps in categorizing the different factors by grouping them. This grouping assists in the analysis of factors as well as helps managers of the projects to comprehend the associations between factors of a group and between different groups. The outcome of such analysis and relationship identification is a determination of appropriate critical success factors. Thereby enabling project stakeholders to have an informed standpoint about the projects.

Also, the theory of success is a contemporary theory with a comprehensive approach encompassing a holistic view of project factors. It is just justifiable to adopt this theory for evaluation of project performance over others (Belassi and Tukel, 1996); (Kureshi, 2013); (Tavana, 2017). This theory brings to light multiple factors which were otherwise submerged and its relationship with other factors. The managers through a detailed analysis of these factors would be in a position to make the right decisions and thus avoid project failures in future. In a highly dynamic business environment, the factors affecting the project are also dynamic and have a significant implication on its success quotient. Hence, such theory is critically important as it provides for a comprehensive outline of different factors responsible for project success.

Application of Belassi & Tukel’s theory of success in construction projects

Building construction industry has many factors which affect the working process of a project, such as lack of coordination, competition, or poor management of human resources. Mismanagement of these factors leads to environmental damage, wastage of resources, and even accidents. In order to prevent such risks and improve the performance and productivity of a project it is essential to handle the human resources, organizational factors, and the environmental aspect. Belassi & Tukel’s theory considers each of these criteria is imperative to the success of a project. Therefore the chances of a construction project’s success increase with the integration of the elements of this theory. It would also help in reducing the risk of unethical practices and overall sustainability of a country, and in formulating a better monitoring framework.


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