Definition

critical success factors

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Project management strategies that transform businesses: A CIO guide
Contributor(s): Francesca Sales

Critical success factors are a limited number of key variables or conditions that have a tremendous impact on how successfully and effectively an organization meets its mission or the strategic goals or objectives of a program or project. Businesses must perform the activities associated with critical success factors at the highest possible level in order to achieve their intended objectives and achieve competitive advantage.

Identifying critical success factors can provide business teams insight into which tasks are truly important, providing points of reference from which to direct the success of a program or project.

The concept of critical success factors was first introduced in the 1960s by McKinsey & Co.'s D. Ronald Daniel, then further expanded on and popularized a decade later by John F. Rockart, an organizational theorist and senior lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

Critical success factors are also known as key success factors or key result areas.

This was last updated in October 2014

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What critical success factors drive your business' success?
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I’ve found it important to be more emphatic about the criticality of these success factors. Critical
Success Factors have to be met/present for the project to succeed. If they are not met/present, the project will fail. The fact that they are met/present does not mean the project will succeed, only that it can. Thus, they are necessary but not sufficient. Many mistakenly confuse CSFs with factors that are Critical to Quality, which relate to the amount of value received but are not themselves determinants of whether the project will fail or can succeed.
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