Clearing Confusion

Clearing Up the Confusion

Terry Deacon, CEO of ProjectPro, explains some confusing project management terminology in a new series of short articles entitled “Clearing up the Confusion”.

Project management is fraught with confusing concepts, but I think that’s what makes it such an interesting profession. Please note, I said profession, because in my mind there is no doubt that project management is a profession. Project management has matured over the past 50 years into what management guru Tom Peters referred to as “a linchpin of organisational success”. Just like traditional professions we have a code of conduct, project management body of knowledge, standards, methodologies and certification programmes.

To my knowledge, South Africa is the first country in the world to have legislated that construction project managers operating in the built environment must be registered with a project management body, in our case, the South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP). This is a statutory body established in terms of section 2 of the Project and Construction Management Act, 2000 (Act No.48 of 2000). See the website for details

But I have digressed from the focus of this column, which is to clear up the confusion with project management terminology. Let’s look at the thorny topic of “project success”.

What is the difference between Success Criteria and Critical Success Factors (CSF)? For the 2010 Soccer World cup a success criterion would be to have sufficient infrastructure completed to hold the opening ceremony as scheduled. Just a one-day delay would have enormous repercussions and would be unthinkable. However, the budget is more flexible in this case and would be exceeded due to additional acceleration costs to meet this major milestone. Thus the project, or in this case, the program would be considered a failure in terms of the cost management success criterion.

Critical success factors for achieving the schedule would be to use critical path analysis and earned value management to give an early warning of any negative deviations from plan so that corrective action may be taken. To complete the project within budget the CSF’s could be to appoint a certified cost engineer to assist in planning and managing the budget and to provide for a realistic budget reserve (contingency).

In short, success criteria are the qualitative and quantitative measures by which the success of the project or program is judged. Critical success factors are things which must be put in place to ensure the achievement of project or program success.

So how do Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Acceptance Criteria relate to the foregoing?  A KPI is a measurement that shows how we are performing relative to the current baselines (please note, I said current, not original!). If earned value management is being used, a Cost Performance Index of 1,2 would indicate that the project is performing well within its time-phased budget at that stage of the life cycle.

Acceptance Criteria usually pertain to the correctness of a deliverable or product. For example, was a report handed in by the due date and in the agreed format? Did the test cubes from a concrete slab attain a crushing strength of at least 30 MPa after 28 days curing?

Lack of understanding of project management terminology can lead to frustration at best, or disaster and litigation at worst. In the next few issues of ProjectPro e-News Terry will be discussing other confusing terms that form part of the fascinating art and science of project management.

We welcome feedback from ProjectPro e-News readers on their perspectives of the views expressed in this column. Send your comments to


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