Critical Success Factors, or CSF’s, are the criteria that defines success. In project management, they are found in the project management plan and define what it means for the project to be successful. Time and Cost (deadlines and budgets) are almost always part of the CSF’s, but most projects have other success criteria as well.
In any area of life, you create goals when you want to accomplish something. For example,
- I want to travel to the UK, France, and 3 other countries before starting University in 4 months time.
In business, projects also have goals that should be easily identifiable and readily communicated. For example,
- This project is for the installation of the software on 12 computers on site at XYZ Manufacturing.
This is called a Scope Statement, and the CSF’s derived from it are:
- Install software on 12 computers
- Meet deadline
- Stay under budget
CSF’s should be SMART goals, that is:
- Specific. If your goal is simply “to improve” I’ve got news for you. You probably won’t.
- Measurable. Many wonderful goals are not easily measurable, and their success or failure gets drowned out by the debate.
- Achievable. There’s nothing more demoralizing than being given goals that are outside of your abilities.
- Relevant. Ensuring the coffee is always hot and ready is a fantastic goal (in my office) but not relevant. That’s an extreme example but suffice it to say that it’s easy to set goals for secondary things. Keep them focused on the important performance metrics.
- Time-bound. You can do everything else right, but if finish months or years behind schedule you just weren’t successful.
Project management critical success factors fall into the following categories:
Was the project completed within the allocated time period?
Did it stay within the budgeted cost?
Did it meet the proper performance or specification level?
Is the result acceptable to the end user/owner?
- Project Changes
Were the scope changes minimal and/or agreed upon?
- Performing Organization
Did it avoid unnecessary disturbance to the main work flow of the organization, or changes to the corporate culture?
Since the definition of a project requires it to be temporary, having a defined beginning and end, the completion date is almost always of critical importance. Someone, like the project sponsor, has commissioned the project and is awaiting its results.
Likewise, every project has a defined scope, that is, the work that is part of the project. By definition then, it has a defined cost, and this cost is not usually allowed to roam free.
The meeting of quality standards is quite often a critical success factor for a project. In fact some projects have quality as their most critical element, such as space flight projects or nuclear reactor construction projects.
It goes without saying that stakeholders need to be satisfied, but this is a surprisingly elusive goal to achieve in practice.
Very few projects are completed within the original scope of the project. Scope changes are inevitable and have the potential to destroy the entire project if not kept under strict controls. Scope changes must be held to a minimum and those that are required must be approved by both the project manager and the end user/owner.
Also, a project should not alter the main work flow of the organization. It is not always possible to completely separate a capital project from the owner organization, and project managers should strive to manage within the strategy, policies, procedures, rules, and directives of the parent organization.
All organizations have corporate cultures and the project manager should not expect their assigned personnel to deviate from cultural norms. All other project success factors being equal, a change in the corporate culture of a company can render a project a failure.