So many important matters can compete for your attention in business that it's often difficult to see the "wood for the trees".

What's more, it can be extremely difficult to get everyone in the team pulling in the same direction and focusing on the true essentials. That's where Critical Success Factors (CSFs) can help.

CSFs, also known as Key Results Areas (KRAs), are the essential areas of activity that must be performed well if you are to achieve the mission, objectives or goals for your business or project. By identifying your Critical Success Factors, you can create a common point of reference to help you direct and measure the success of your business or project.

As a common point of reference, CSFs help everyone in the team to know exactly what's most important. And this helps people perform their own work in the right context and so pull together towards the same overall aims.

About CSFs

The idea of CSFs was first presented by D. Ronald Daniel in the 1960s. It was then built on and popularized a decade later by John F. Rockart, of MIT's Sloan School of Management, and has since been used extensively to help businesses implement their strategies and projects.

Inevitably, the CSF concept has evolved, and you may have seen it implemented in different ways. This article provides a simple definition and approach based on Rockart's original ideas.

Rockart defined CSFs as: "The limited number of areas in which results, if they are satisfactory, will ensure successful competitive performance for the organization. They are the few key areas where things must go right for the business to flourish. If results in these areas are not adequate, the organization's efforts for the period will be less than desired."

He also concluded that CSFs are "areas of activity that should receive constant and careful attention from management."

Critical Success Factors are strongly related to the mission and strategic goals of your business or project. Whereas the mission and goals focus on the aims and what is to be achieved, Critical Success Factors focus on the most important areas and get to the very heart of both what is to be achieved and how you will achieve it.