CSF Survey: Findings

At the highest level, the overriding finding is the relative importance respondents placed on the various Critical Success Factors[1]

Relative CSF Weight


On average, respondents placed relatively more importance on Leadership, Purpose and Stakeholders.  They placed relatively less importance on Governance, Delivery Process and Performance ManagementBlueprint & Roadmap, Business Case & Funding, Resources and Plan were ranked closer to the average.

The difference between the highest- and lowest-ranked factors is significant: the highest scored almost 16% of the available points, while the lowest achieved only around 6% - i.e. a difference of almost 3 times.

It is important to recognise that all these factors are critical to the success of a change initiative.  As one respondent said “none of them are nice to haves”; and another said “… a big change programme without any one of the items you list … is unlikely to succeed”.  Our objective in conducting the survey was not to discover which are critical and which are not, but to explore how the relative importance might be used to focus on those critical factors most likely to contribute to success in a given situation.

In addition, interesting findings were also identified by looking at how perspectives differed according to professional discipline, the size of initiatives in which the respondents have been involved, their industry and the part of the world they come from.

Professional Perspectives

Those who described themselves as members of the Change Management profession placed relatively more importance than the average on Leadership. 

This may be because their role is often one of seeking to engage stakeholders in the effective shaping and implementation of change and matters such as encouraging leaders to ‘walk the talk’ are central to this role.



On the other hand, those who identified themselves as Project/Programme Management professionals placed relatively more importance than the average on Purpose and Blueprint & Roadmap. 

As with Change Management professionals, this may well be to do with their role - being one of sustaining the drive to deliver change throughout the initiative’s life-cycle.  In this situation, having a clear understanding of where the initiative is intended to lead is vital.

Some of the results surprised us, however: that Project/Programme Managers should place relatively more importance on Stakeholders than Change Management professionals; and that Project/Programme Managers should give a low priority to Governance and Performance Management[2], traditionally central to their role in keeping change initiatives on track.  Both these findings are worthy of further investigation.


On the whole, there seems to be considerable correlation between the perspectives of each of the four main role groups we surveyed.



It is noticeable, though, that more senior people tend to take the strongest views - in 8 out of the 10 categories, the SVP/VP/Director group had one of the two most divergent scores.

Size of Initiative

People with experience of large initiatives tend to place relatively more emphasis on Leadership, Purpose and Business Case & Funding and relatively less emphasis on Blueprint & Roadmap, Resources and Delivery Process than those whose experience is mainly on smaller projects.



Our hypothesis here is that these views respond to the relatively high complexity, and hence relatively low predictability, of larger change initiatives.  Larger initiatives tend to take longer and involve a higher proportion of the organisation and are, therefore, more likely to face challenges than smaller, perhaps more neatly defined initiatives.  In this situation, continuity and consistency of Leadership, clarity and continual communication of Purpose and the clear understanding that this is all supported by a solid Business Case are vital to an initiative’s ability to create and sustain change effectively.

It is often argued that this is exactly why large initiatives should be avoided.  However, whilst it is relatively easy to control the scale of incremental change, discontinuous changes - such as those which are driven by significant market repositioning or a wholesale swap-out of core infrastructure - simply have to deal with everything within their scope, irrespective of the impact on the size of the initiative.


We divided respondents into 6 main industries, as below.  (This excludes those who work cross-industry).

Perhaps the most striking point here is not the differences between industries, but the remarkable similarity. 

Industry vs Average

This surprised us.  We have often found - and some of our survey respondents’ comments backed this up - that many organisations believe that the challenges of their industry are unique, and that lessons from other industries often don’t apply to theirs.  At least on the relative importance of the CSFs, our survey does not support this; on the contrary, it firmly contradicts it. 

We think this is very significant finding, and we have explored it further - see ‘Viewpoint: Are CSFs Unique?’

Within the general picture, though, there are a few interesting details.  Why, for example, do Government practitioners rank Delivery Process so low when Government is often said to be very process-focussed? And it’s striking that Government and EMU respondents rate Stakeholders rather lower than other groups, whereas Communications industry respondents gave them an unusually high priority. 


It’s interesting to see the influences different cultures have on how people go about their work, particularly between Europeans and Americans - together covering over 80% of the respondents to our survey.



It seems that Americans place more importance in factors driving structure, such as having a Blueprint & Roadmap and Plan together with robust Delivery Processes and Performance Management mechanisms.  On the other hand, Europeans seem to prefer factors which enable flexibility, such as Governance and Resources.

Alternative Factors and Comments

Respondents were invited to offer ranked alternatives to our top ten CSFs and to offer comments.  We did analyse the alternative rankings to understand what impact they might have had on our findings.  In short, we do not believe the alternative CSFs or their rankings would have materially changed the survey outcome (see chart below) and have, therefore, left them out of the analysis in the main paper.



The details can be found in two attachments to this report: Analysis of Alternative CSFs and Sample Respondent Comments.



[1] We calculated this by allocating 10 points for the factor each respondent ranked first, 9 for second etc. through to 1 point for tenth place, then calculating the percentage of all available points allocated to each factor.  Thus the average works out at 10%; the graph above shows the variation from the average. 
[2] We intended Performance Management to refer to managing the status and performance of the change initiative - i.e. reporting status accurately and acting on the answers.  However, from comments some respondents made we suspect that they may have interpreted it to mean the performance of individuals in the organisation - i.e. evaluation, reward and development of people.  That may (at the risk of stereotyping!) explain why Project/Programme Managers saw this as less important.