Success factors in project management
January 24, 2022

How To Identify Critical Success Factors in Project Management

By Shubhangi Pandey

Projects are hectic by nature. In the sea of tasks, priorities, and deliverables, it can be easy to lose focus and forget what your critical success factors are for your project goals.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to identify key success factors for every project you lead and succeed!


What Are Critical and Key Success Factors in Project Management?

Before we get into the thick of it, it’s important to understand what critical and key success factors really are.

According to PRINCE2’s definition, critical success factors (CSFs) are “elements in a project that are critical to the project achieving its mission or goal.”

Fortunately, CSFs aren’t something vague.

They are clearly defined elements that you can track with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

KPIs will help you understand if you’re managing all the elements properly.

Critical Success Factors

Source: PRINCE2

You can also look at critical and key success factors in project management through a paradigm that starts with deliverables (things the project is supposed to create).

Critical success factors (CSF) define the things that the deliverable requires and the factors that ultimately define it as successful.

For example, your deliverable could be a house.

Your critical success factors would be construction workers and materials.

Your key success criteria would be creating a certain number of rooms, doing it within budget, and delivering it on time.

Finally, you could track the progress with schedule-related KPIs.


Why Are Critical Success Factors Important?

With 67% of projects running out of budget or time, it’s pretty clear that the majority of project managers and companies don’t completely understand their projects’ critical success factors.

In the end, you could end up completing irrelevant tasks first, instead of focusing on tasks that truly drive the project’s progress.

Risk management and lack of support also cause problems.

Maybe you wouldn’t have run out of time if you had top management’s support or if your team understood what the project was truly meant to create.

Agile Team Collaboration

Critical success factors help you focus on the elements that are vital to your project’s success.

For example, if you were running a digitalization project in HR, you’d want top management’s support to deal with adoption and implementation.

Conversely, if you were launching a marketing campaign for a client, your critical success factor would be launching it on time by conducting the necessary research and creating the required materials.

In short, critical success factors are important because they help project managers:

  • Facilitate communication between different project stakeholders
  • Monitor and control scope, changes, and risks
  • Identify and prioritize goals and tasks
  • Identify and allocate resources
  • Remove bottlenecks in knowledge-sharing flows.


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What Are the Most Important Critical Success Factors in Project Management?

According to the Project Management Institute and other researchers, the following factors affect project success the most:

  • Formally established project managers with necessary skills and authority
  • Clearly set and widely understood project goals
  • Competent and experienced project teams
  • Top management support.


Project Managers’ Effect on Project Success

You don’t have to be a trained project manager for your project to be successful.

However, you need to have the necessary skills, such as communication, planning, and delegation.

Make sure you develop a plan with responsibilities and deliverables before getting to work.

Identify scope and risks early on, and monitor changes as they occur.

Planning project templates


Clearly Defining Project Goals

As a project manager, you have to make sure that everyone on your team is on the same page.

The crucial stage here is the project initiation stage, at which you should make sure that your project team members understand what the project is set to accomplish, and which tasks are crucial to success.


Experienced Project Teams

When you’re managing projects, what you’re really managing are people.

You have to make sure that your team members have the necessary skills to complete the project.


Top Management Support Is One of the Most Important Critical Success Factors in Project Management

Finally, top management support is connected to goal-setting.

Your top management has to believe in the project’s ability to meet business needs, and they have to be willing to support you.

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How to Identify Crucial and Key Success Factors in Project Management?

Your CSFs depend on your project.

However, you can generally identify and manage them by:

1. Accurately Defining and Communicating Project Goals

Firstly, you should use the SMART goal-setting method to define your goals. Your project goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound.


So instead of putting a goal as: “Improve the way we hire,” you should phrase your goal as:

Improve our candidate pipeline by attracting 100 new candidates through social media advertising within two months.”

Then, make sure every stakeholder understands why this goal is important.

For example, top management may think this goal is important because the quality of the candidate pipeline influences the company’s bottom line.

Teams may consider this goal important because it means they’ll be working with more professionals such as themselves, rather than working with people who don’t fit your company’s culture.


2. Understanding the Scope of Your Project

If you want your project to be successful, you have to understand and manage its scope.

Firstly, create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

It will help you understand which tasks you need to complete in order to get the final product that will make the project successful.

Work Breakdown Structure

Source: Project Insight

Secondly, identify task dependencies and set priorities.

Which tasks are the most important?

Which tasks can’t be completed until other tasks are completed first?

Chart your Critical Path to identify how much time it will take to complete the project, and how any changes affect the scope.

Critical Path Method

Finally, create a project scope statement and make sure all the stakeholders understand it.

If you’re working with external clients, it’s also good to establish a change and constraints policy.


3. Communication Is the Key to Project Success

Projects are dynamic, and it can be easy to drop the ball. That’s exactly why you should create a project communication plan:

  • Identify all the stakeholders
  • Establish roles and responsibilities
  • Outline communication processes, methods, and channels.


For example, you may need to communicate with top management through monthly meetings and formal documents.

Communicate with your team daily.

You can do it through a project management tool.

You may need to keep different team members informed on things related to their tasks.


4. Manage Risks and Forget about Headaches

Finally, every project faces risks and changes.

But the difference between a good and sub-par project manager is in the way they approach them.

Firstly, try to identify as many risks as possible at the project planning stage.

If a risk occurs, meet with stakeholders and create a plan for eliminating or mitigating it.

Don’t bury your head in the sand – be proactive.

Strive to understand root causes, and how they could affect your project success.


Managing Project Success

Being a project manager isn’t easy.

However, when you carefully identify your success factors, make sure all the stakeholders are on the same page, and monitor the progress of your project, there’s nothing to worry about.

Project management solutions like Project Central or BrightWork 365 integrate directly into your Microsoft 365 accounts, so you can cover these critical success factors in one centralized tool.

Let’s get to work!

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