The Knowledge Worker Challenge
Boosting productivity is a goal shared by managers everywhere, but the path to increased productivity is not always clear. A critical success factors method can help refocus priorities for individual managers, their organizations, and their information technology group.
Enhancing productivity is the fundamental goal of managementin today's global, streamlined, complex marketplace. Attempts to achieve improved productivity masquerade as a variety of up-to-the-minute corporate improvement programs: business process reengineering, total quality management, development of the information technology infrastructure. Unfortunately, many of these programs have ultimately yielded little or nothing. For example, a CSC Index studyof 497 large companies in the US and 124 in Europe reported that 85% of reengineering projects end in failure.
The issue at the heart of these failures is not that the managers made poor decisions or that the consultants were wrong. The issue is that managers need help focusing on what is critical in their environments. At the same time, resources and energy applied to the activities thatmanagers can control and improve will result in successes. Corporate life in today's business world is a mix of scarce resources, unrealistic deadlines, instantaneous communication, demanding customers, and fierce competition. It is no wonder that managers may be confused about where to concentrate their attention.
The critical success factors (CSFs) approach helps managers think through the fog ofcomplexity and identify those few areas that are critical to the survival of their roles and organizations.
HISTORY OF THE CSF METHOD
The concept of critical success factors was introduced in 1979. Many organizations have used the approach as a framework for strategic planning. The CSF method directs managers to determine those things that must go right in order to succeed in achieving goals andobjectives. The ultimate value that the CSF method brings is the ability to focus management attention on the tasks and activities that need to be done well to achieve success.
Examples of CSFs can be found on many levels. Individuals have critical success factors relating to their roles and styles. Departments and divisions of organizations identify CSFs resulting from their missions,products/services, customers and the personal CSFs of their managers. Industry CSFs derive from their products/services, customers, and competing organizations. For example, the director of a major urban hospital identified CSFs covering a broad range of topics from "staying on top of the developing technology" to "the support of my spouse and family." In another interview, the vice-president of R&D sawthe partnership between R&D and marketing as a CSF for the division. A study of the grocery industry pointed out two CSFs for individual supermarkets: "the right mix of products for the ethnic groups of customers" and "no lost sales due to stock outs." These examples demonstrate the range of activities and ideas that the critical success factor method can reveal.
The method itself centers on aninterview technique where managers move through three stages: listing their goals and objectives, identifying the critical success factors necessary to achieve the goals and objectives, and suggesting ways in which the CSFs are to be measured. Skilled interviewers take managers through this process in about one and a half hours and have a toolkit of tested questions to elicit a full range of CSFs.Before the concept of CSFs was introduced, managers tried to use traditional reports based on accounting information to manage their organizations. While these documents were helpful in reporting on where a firm stood in terms of generally accepted numerical indicators, they did not tell managers how they were doing on those factors they could actively manage and control. Unfortunately, this...