Project Success Criteria, Factors, Benefits and KPIs

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Many people get confused between success criteria, factors, benefits and KPIs. The jargon might seem very similar but it is important to understand the difference between them. I explain these terms using the simple story of a birthday cake.

Project Success Criteria

Those things identified and agreed by stakeholders which need to be achieved in order that the project is considered a success. The success criteria will be measurable and will be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is still achievable. The project manager will be responsible for managing the time, cost & quality element of the success criteria during the project but it will ultimately be the stakeholders who use the criteria in the handover and close phase to establish whether the project was a success.

Example: for a birthday cake this includes if it looks and tastes good, is it delivered on time, does it have the right number of candles.

Critical Success Factors

Those factors which when absent from the project environment will cause the project to fail. These are identified, defined and managed by the project manager. Typically, these will be the factors which the whole basis of the project is founded. Ideally, when a critical success factor is identified as possible failing, the project should be suspended whilst the issue is escalated to the next level of authority.

Example: for a cake this would be a working oven that has a stable and even temperature, sufficient skill in the cook to follow the recipe effectively, the right and fresh ingredients, sufficient eggs and good quality flour.


Quantifiable measured improvements resulting from completion of deliverables, as perceived in a positive way by stakeholders. These are identified and agreed by stakeholders, at the start of the project and will be reviewed at gate reviews to ensure they are still achievable. The benefits will normally not be realised by the project manager; it will be the sponsor who will typically oversee the benefits realisation.

Example: for a birthday party this would include happy children, happy memories in the future when you look at the photos.

Key Performance Indicators

Measures of success used throughout the project to ensure it is progressing towards a successful conclusion. KPIs will be devised by the project manager as a method of tracking progress. The project manager will periodically evaluate the KPIs to ascertain progress and then use this information at reviews and to help in the rectification of deviations.

Example: this could include progress against the plan, the stability of the oven temperature.

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