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The Critical Success Factors of Project Management

Managing a project is rarely easy. With so many priorities, milestones and tasks whizzing around the project manager’s head every day, it can be difficult to maintain focus on what will actually make a project successful. 

But what are the critical success factors in project management? Why are they needed, and what should yours be? Read on for the answers to all these questions.

What is a Critical Success Factor (CSF)?

Put simply, a critical success factor (or CSF) is an element of a project’s setup that is vital in ensuring its success. CSFs can be universal or project-specific, and when defining them, it’s important to have some of both.

As an example of a project-specific success factor, imagine a project to restore an old factory into a block of apartments. The acquisition of the old factory will be one of the most important CSF and without this starting point being attained, the project cannot even begin, let alone succeed. 

A project deliverable can be defined as ‘what a project will create’, so for the above example, the deliverable is the final block of apartments. A CSF is what is required to make the deliverable possible. 

Critical Success Factors as Goals

A critical success factor is, by definition, a clearly defined method of achieving a goal. A popular way of quantifying a pre-defined CSF into a goal is with a SMART target, a goal which is: 

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

While the overall goal of a project can be ‘to improve the speed of our development’, a SMART goal will be more specific and measured, EG ‘to improve the speed of our development by 12% within 6 months’. 

Universal CSFs: What Does Every Project Need to Be Successful?

Here are a handful of CSFs that apply to every project imaginable. Hopefully, they will serve as a good starting point for you to define your own set of critical success factors.

1) Clear Project Goals & Milestones

First of all, no project can succeed if there is no clear way of measuring success. While your goals themselves could become critical success factors, the one CSF that cannot be ignored is that these goals are defined in the first place. 

As a project manager, it falls to you to collate stakeholder goals with team capabilities and create a set of goals and milestones that can be kept to a schedule

What’s even more vital than the goals themselves is that your team understands them. A project manager should help their team understand the goals at hand, and which tasks will ensure these goals are met.

2) Competent and Well-Managed Teams

Unless a project is being managed and worked on solo, managing a project is – in its most basic form – managing people. A project manager is responsible for ensuring the team possesses the skills and capabilities needed for delivering the project. 

Not only is a competent team absolutely critical, it is vital that the team be managed well. It is not enough to get ten talented people and throw them in a room; a team needs direction.

Sometimes, a team may not need to be micromanaged if the PM is 100% confident that each team member knows how to deliver their workload exactly to spec. 

A team like this still needs to be managed, or rather ‘directed’ so that their tasks are completed in alignment with external dependencies and milestones. Check out our guide on managing project teams for more info.

3) Support from Top Management

Regardless of how smoothly your team is working to deliver a project if nobody upstairs is giving the project the support it needs, it won’t have the desired impact. Therefore stakeholder engagement is vital to ensuring that the right people are keeping an eye on the project.

By engaging your stakeholders, you can make sure that anyone who you rely on for approvals or budgeting feels involved, and therefore supports the project in the ways that it requires. 

4) Seamless Communication 

Perhaps one of the most common hurdles in project management is communication. Whether this be from the team to the PM, the stakeholders to the PM or even within the team, communication is absolutely vital to the success of any project. 

A breakdown in communication between the team and the stakeholders can result in disaster for the project, so it is essential that the project manager is experienced in being the conduit through which communication between all parties flows smoothly. 

At times, managing both your team and your stakeholders can feel like a chore, often forcing you to compromise or mediate between disagreeing parties. A good platform for project management will help with this, allowing the PM to relay communications between all parties, and deliver data-backed decisions that everyone can understand. 

5) Effective Risk Management

No project comes without its fair share of risks. Instead of simply letting these risks exist, a good project manager tracks each risk individually and manages the progress of each. 

Risk management is perhaps one of the most vital parts of project management. When dealing with a multitude of dependencies, any issue can cause problems further down the line. This is where risk management and contingency planning come in handy. With a backup plan in place in the case of any disruption, the project can adapt and continue to run smoothly. 

This is why risk management is one of the most universal critical success factors. Many projects sail on by without ever considering the risks of issues arising and then fail when they do. 

How to Determine CSFs

Now we’ve identified the core CSFs that you should always consider, now it’s time to decide upon the project-specific critical success factors. There is a simple method of assigning these elements:

1) Identify the key deliverables and dependencies

2) Identify every factor that determines the success of the above

How to Define Deliverables

Deliverables are any end product that the project will create. It can be a public-facing deliverable, such as the end goal (block of flats, a child’s toy, a piece of software) or it can be an internal deliverable (monthly reports, risk assessments etc.). 

How to Define Dependencies

A dependency is a factor that a deliverable relies on to be delivered. For example, a monthly report relies on the correct data and a finished piece of software relies on the front-end user interface to be created. 

How to Define Critical Success Factors

When we have identified our deliverables and dependencies, we need to think about what factors they depend on to be delivered. For example, an internal report relies on correct data, and to gather correct data we need a good piece of data collection software EG Google Analytics. This is the CSF. 

Another example may be a child’s toy being developed and put to market. The finished toy relies on packaging and marketing to be worked on, so the critical success factor will be to attain a team of branding/marketing experts to work on this. 

Final Notes

A good selection of critical success factors will pave the way for success in any project. Once you know exactly how your goals and targets can be achieved, you can plan what tasks need to be completed and which risks need to be tracked to make it happen. This is where Verto 365 comes in. 

Verto 365 is a cloud-based work and project management system that offers a wide range of tools to help make managing projects and tasks easier. From stakeholder engagement tools to cross-team communication, and from risk tracking to project reporting, Verto 365 has everything you need to streamline your project. 

Sign up for free today, request a demonstration, or get in touch with our team for more information. 

Verto 365 can now be used via the app within Microsoft Teams allowing you to manage your tasks directly from the platform. As a single, cloud-based workspace, users can hold and manage more of their work activity from one place, build logical working practices and collaborate on shared work directly from within Microsoft Teams app or from a browser.
Get started today for free, and see what Verto 365 can do for you.

About the author – Laura Watts

Laura is the Marketing Manager at TMI Systems Ltd., working predominantly on Verto 365 and closely on the Microsoft partnership enabling the platform to be used in its entirety from Microsoft Teams. Laura and her family moved from London in 2021 and now live and work in Gloucestershire.

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