Know your Critical Success Factors


What breaks or makes a success? Do you know? Can you tell if you are going in the right direction?

Here she goes again on KPIs!’

Not today, that is second derivative of this. Today the question is more fundamental than this. You have a strategy, you have your priorities or areas of focus. But do you know what it takes to get there?

Of course I do, isn’t that obvious

It is less than obvious really. As an example, at A Little Gesture, our mission is to promote the improvement of living conditions for underprivileged children and their families in Mozambique. We believe that access to education and nutrition will help them break the inter generational cycle of poverty. We want to be out of business one day.

But how? What do we need to get right – when do you get down to details? It is not about establishing 3 pre schools or sponsoring 800 children, but rather the activities that get me there:


I need funding

  • I need to find new donours every year: this means doing good events, creating partnerships, raising successful campaigns
  • I need to keep existing sponsors and donours happy: this means good CRM and follow up system, good reporting and data from the ground including impact metrics



I need a team 

  • I need to have a team that works at headquarters with donours and local partners: they need to be happy, believe the mission and be empowered to make change
  • I need to have local partnerships: they need to be: aligned and engaged with our goals, we need a close relationship and good communication
  • I need to have a local support network and team that executes on the projects: they need to be close to the community but distant enough to be able to provide an independent view on it

I need project development

  • I need to manage existing projects to budgets and timings: that means someone at HQ that tracks this day to day, visits to the ground and work with local technicians to ensure projects find completion
  • I need to be delivering projects that work for each group of beneficiaries and in some cases for individual beneficiaries: that means having a close relationship with the community and moreover, having a good connection with the children
  • I need projects that adapt as the beneficiaries adapt: our personalized approach requires us to keep adjusting and finding out how to make each case a success so I need to understand every single family situation
  • I need children to buy into the projects: this means that we need to work with them to help them see the benefits of education, a new technical course or IT skills

With no money there is not much I can do on the ground. With no local team I can not operate the projects even with all the money in the world. And with no buy in from beneficiaries, especially as they get older, I get no change. At least not in a way that suits our mission. So in a way all of these individually are critical success factors for me to be executing on my strategy successfully. And that is just the beginning. I sometimes wonder why I don’t have this as a screensaver in my home computer. Or why I have not necessarily written it down. Practice what you preach right?

Most business plans (when they happen) articulate

  • Strategy & Vision
  • Goals – hopefully measurable and tracked on a regular basis
  • Key Initiatives – especially in established businesses when you need to find areas of growth or incremental development

I see that most often people stop there, but the key question you need to ask is – what are the 5 (or 3,  ideally single digit)  things you need to get right for this new product to be successful or new business to be launched. I am not talking about the fact that you need a good product or clients to want to buy it. I am taking that that part you have investigated and you know what it takes to have a product that can succeed. What you have not determined is what you need to get to that product. What can these factors be? In no particular order…

  • Technology – in many new businesses or product launches, technology is a big part of what you need to invest on. So you need to understand what it takes to bring a new product to market, develop an MVP, expand geographically. Technology can be internally developed or externally bought. Look at what exactly you need, given where you are, how much it will cost you and when do you expect to have it ready by
  • Systems – how is this different from technology? Here I am encompassing the back end – so it may be the infrastructure support, the automation of processes or just the legal support required to operate in a new jurisdiction.  It is important to recognise that scale brings a whole host of associated problems that may require scaling up the company in a whole different manner
  • People – who do you need for this business to be successful?  Do you need to hire people? Do you need to restructure? Do you need to re-tool people? Provide training?
  • Structure – who is in charge? Where does the new product or business fit (especially in large organizations)? What is the governance? How will teams collaborate? What are the incentives schemes?

What may seem like simple questions quickly becomes a challenging (and sometimes heated) discussion. As I do this to review our business initiatives, my final question to the teams is:

If you do this, will you be where you need to be, or will you be missing something.

That focuses the mind. Often, something new comes up.

And it is critical for success.


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