How to Ensure Project Success with Critical Success Factors

hitting targets

For businesses and projects to succeed, the line between success and failure must be made clear. But if you don’t have a clear idea of what success looks like, how do you know when you’ve succeeded?

Everyone’s definition of success is different. While one project manager may consider a project that generates a 180% return on investment successful, another may set the bar for success at simply completing the project within budget. While neither is wrong, these goals are arbitrary if they are based on nothing more than the project manager’s whim.

So, what constitutes ‘success’? That’s the question that critical success factors set out to answer.

What are Critical Success Factors?

What are the Different Types of Critical Success Factors?

Example Critical Success Factors for Project Management

The Benefits of Critical Success Factors

Identifying Critical Success Factors

Implementing Critical Success Factors

What are Critical Success Factors?

Critical success factors (CSFs) are specific targets or tasks a person, business, or project must meet in order to achieve a goal. 

In project management terms, if a deliverable is a goal, your CSFs are what must be completed to achieve that goal. CSFs do not measure success; they are simply there to guide you in the right direction. Finally, if you meet the CSFs set out for your project, you have been successful. CSFs can help you find focus in an overwhelming project or measure your progress against your deliverables.

Critical Success Factors and Key Performance Indicators

The definition of a CSF is very similar to that of a key performance indicator (KPI). Where they differ is that while KPIs usually focus on data or performance metrics, CSFs are high-level concepts.

That being said, you can use CSFs and KPIs together to guide your project to success; if a CSF is a high-level goal you need to achieve to be successful, your KPIs are the measurable actions that will prove you got there.

What are the Different Types of Critical Success Factors?

What’s most important to remember is that your Critical Success Factors will be unique to your business and individual projects. You can’t emulate a competitor's success by mimicking their CSF model, especially if they are in a different industry. Your CSFs may even differ from project to project. There are four types of CSFs:


Industry CSFs are specific to your industry and may be shared by competitors, though they won’t be identical across all relevant businesses. These can include entering a specific market, winning an industry award, or changing organizational structures.


Strategic CSFs are focused on furthering the success of your project strategically by driving stakeholder engagement or securing exclusive and beneficial partnerships.


Environmental CSFs consider changes to the world around you that may impact your project or business, such as the economy, regulations, technological advancements, and environmental shifts.


Temporal CSFs consider changes that are a little closer to home, including shifting business prioritizations and requirements.

Example Critical Success Factors for Project Management

While critical success factors are often used by businesses and across industries, they can also be instrumental when incorporated at a project level. Here are five critical success factors for project management. This is not an exhaustive list and can be tailored to your specific project needs.

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement can be hugely influential on the success of a project. Should a key stakeholder not be looped in on communications in good time, they could throw a spanner in the works later on or be negatively impacted by decisions made without their input. This can also apply to team member engagement and accountability.

Specific, Measurable, Attainable Deliverables

It’s impossible to expect to complete a project successfully if you and your team don’t understand what it is meant to be accomplishing. Deliverables should always be realistic, measurable against KPIs, and specific.

Clear Project Plans

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. All project managers have fallen foul to a vague project plan or lost documentation. Creating clear plans that document your clear deliverables, how you will achieve them and by when will go a long way to securing success.

Clear Collaboration and Communication

Collaboration and communication are more accessible than ever in the 21st century. Yet, without the suitable protocols to ensure everyone knows what they need to do their jobs correctly, it can be easy for people to begin dropping balls. Keep channels of communication open and share information with your team and stakeholders.

Mitigation of Risk

All projects come with risks that threaten their progress. Before beginning any new project, create a contingency plan with policies for dealing with risk. These should include guidance on conflict resolution relating to internal and external parties to prevent disagreements from getting in the way of success.

The Benefits of Critical Success Factors


CSFs hold you and your team accountable to deliver. By laying out CSFs ahead of time, you provide clear goals to work towards and prevent the project from being pulled off-course by competing priorities.

Effective Prioritization

Clear CSFs help with effective task prioritization and allow project managers to manage time, cost, and resources better. If you work across multiple projects competing for the same resource, CSFs can help determine how this is allocated.

Alignment of Vision

There are multiple voices that you must take into account with any project. Setting out CSFs before the project commences helps ensure all parties, including key stakeholders, are aligned in their vision for the project. That means no disagreements over what constitutes success in the project review.

Identifying Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors will help keep your team’s eye on the prize, so it’s essential to select goals that are relevant to your project. This means that you, as project manager, will need to create a list of CSFs for each project. Here’s how that process can look:

Work Closely with Your Team

When setting CSFs, everyone must get the chance to contribute. That means hearing out the ideas and concerns from the most junior to most senior members of your team. CSFs work best when they are informed by a range of opinions and experiences, making it essential to your success that everyone’s voice is heard.

Consider the Priorities of Your Team, Your Stakeholders, and Your Clients

Everyone will have a different definition of ‘success,’ but alignment is key to project success. Consider your team's priorities, stakeholders, and clients before defining your CSFs. This will help guarantee consensus in the long term.

Clarify Project Scope

Before you can finalize your list of CSFs, you must be clear on the scope of your project. Plotting your deliverables against a timeline can provide a clear picture of what needs to be done and by when, supporting prioritization.

Prune, Quantify, Document

At the end of this process, you may have a long list of potential CSFs. Thankfully, you’ve discussed the priorities and goals of your stakeholders, so you can remove items that don’t align with these. Once you have the final list, decide your KPIs for each. Finally, document your decisions and share your CSFs with all relevant parties.

You now have a list of critical success factors for your project! This will make it easier to review your project and understand what steps must be taken to succeed.

Implementing Critical Success Factors

Use Data to Quantify Your Success

Don’t rely on guesswork to determine whether or not you’re keeping on track with your overall goals. Frequently review your goals against data points and reports, using your KPIs.

Data analysis can be a time-sink, but it demands care and accuracy in order to be meaningful. Take the pressure off yourself by using a BI tool that allows you to create custom reporting dashboards, and set up a dashboard to track the KPIs that contribute to your critical success factors. This gives you a convenient point of reference for tracking progress that you can quickly check whenever you need.

How to Boost Your Business with Advanced AnalyticsFacilitate Collaboration and Communication

Open communication and seamless collaboration will help your team weather any storm. For example, priorities and plans will likely change as time goes on, so you may need to adapt your CSFs to accommodate these changes. If you make adjustments or see an issue arising, always communicate this with your team, stakeholders and clients. 

Consider What Roadblocks Could Stand in the Way of Success

There are countless reasons a project can fail. Considering everything that could go wrong ahead of time helps you plan for all eventualities and avoid headaches later. When an issue does arise, you will be prepared to deal with it. One way of doing this is with the Project Management Triangle (PMT). 

The PMT is a model that project managers can use to control the quality of a project’s outcomes by balancing time, cost, and project scope. A key aspect of the PMT is that it forces you to consider risk, thereby minimizing the impact on budget and timelines, and therefore success.

Track Your Progress Visually with the Right Project Management Tools

With the right tools, tracking project progress can be accurate and straightforward. There are countless options available, but selecting the right one is critical to your project’s success. 

With Forecast, you can create project schedules in an instant, maximize resource efficiency, and stay on top of project costs, all within one highly visual management tool. As your project progresses, you can quickly identify potential issues and delays that may impact your critical success factors and the success of your project.

To keep your project on track to meet your critical success factors, sign up for a free 14-day trial of Forecast below.

Subscribe to the Forecast Newsletter

Get a monthly roundup of productivity tips & hacks delivered straight to your inbox