Who doesn’t want to know where to focus his attention and action so as to hit his targets? The Critical Success Factors, CSFs, is one great methodology to achieve that. But though most managers are enamored with the term, many admit having only a cursory experience with it and feel uncertain whether what they list as their CSFs are the right ones or even meaningful.

Some fine points from a recognized HBR article on CSFs to help readers grasp what CSFs are, are quoted below:

CSFs are the limited number of areas in which satisfactory results will ensure successful competitive performance for the individual, department, or organization. CSFs are the few key areas where “things must go right” for the business to flourish and for the manger’s goals to be attained.
CSFs are the areas in which good performance is necessary to ensure attainment of goals.
In most industries there are usually three to six factors that determine success; these key jobs must be done exceedingly well for a company to be successful.

(From John F. Rockart’s HBR article March-April 1979 entitled “The Chief Executives Define Their Own Data Needs”

Note: CSFs were first discussed in the management literature in 1961 by D. Ronald Daniel, Managing Director of McKinsey & Company).

In other words, CSFs are what a manager must selectively do each day in working to accomplish his goals. Thus, Goals very much influence CSFs. Having identified a manager’s goals, the CSFs underlying the goals will next be derived and discussed. Goals and CSFs are interrelated and can be thought together when working to determine them.

But from where should managers draw content to identify goals and CSFs? Of course, company strategy and objectives and strategy goals are very [...]