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Everything you need to know about mission-critical projects 8 min read
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As a project manager, you’re responsible for keeping your project moving forward smoothly. However, at any moment, a mission-critical loss could occur, threatening the success of your project and even your company. Understanding how a resource loss or a system’s failure might be mission-critical can help you better prepare for such a possibility.

While mission-critical issues may manifest differently across various industries and businesses, the need to be aware of them is vital, no matter what field you’re in or what types of projects you manage. In this article, we explore what “mission critical” really means, how it differs from “business critical,” and what steps you can take to protect yourself against catastrophic failures of systems and apps.

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What does “mission critical” mean?

The phrase “mission critical” refers to any factor in an organization, project, or system that is crucial to that organization’s operations or survival. If a mission-critical system or activity is interrupted, the organization’s operations are severely affected. Typically, operations come to a complete halt if a mission-critical system or service goes down, and the very survival of the organization may be imperiled.

Projects and systems that put people’s lives or safety at risk are considered mission-critical, as are factors that can cause legal, financial, or regulatory ramifications when they go awry, or result in harm to an organization’s reputation. Anything that might compromise data, research, or essential business functions is also considered mission-critical.

Mission-critical factors vary from one industry or organization to another. Typically, mission-critical elements are those that an organization depends on continuously in order to operate. For instance, electricity is mission-critical to a hospital. Without it, a hospital simply can’t operate. Meanwhile, loss of electricity might be just a temporary inconvenience to a forestry project.

Mission-critical operations should be protected to ensure they’re never compromised so that they can keep running without interruption. Consider, for example, how a data breach could impact an organization, thus the importance of putting data operation safeguards in place.

While mission-critical processes aren’t always technological in nature, most are, and the term “mission critical” usually relates to utility and IT infrastructure, without which most businesses can’t continue to function.

Mission-critical resources in project management

As a project manager, you’re responsible for making sure all mission-critical resources are available to members of your team so that they can complete their projects successfully. Mission-critical resources include technology resources, as well as tools and materials. For example, if you’re staging a conference, your project might require microphones, lighting and display capabilities, or other unique materials.

In addition, your project may require a specific type of space to ensure its successful execution. This could be anything from a conference room of certain dimensions to a factory floor with very specific requirements and configuration.

Human resources can also be mission-critical. You may need team members with particular capabilities — think IT specialists or graphic designers, for instance. You may also need outside vendors or contractors to complete your project. If the potential loss of any of these people could cause your project to fail or be derailed, consider them mission-critical.

By analyzing your project’s requirements and its complexity, you can create a contingency plan designed to protect you in the event a mission-critical element goes awry.

To help make the concept clearer, let’s take a look at some examples of mission-critical projects.

Examples of mission-critical projects

What constitutes a mission-critical project will vary from one project to the next, from one organization to the next, and from one industry to the next. Your local police department might consider software that identifies the location of each department vehicle to be mission-critical. However, that same software might be considered no more than a nice perk to a pharmaceutical company tracking its reps in the field.

In many fields, data is mission-critical at many levels. Organizations with mission-critical data must therefore take steps to protect that data from loss, theft, or corruption. They must also think about protection against power outages, cyberattacks, hardware failure, and corruption resulting from malicious or negligent employees.

Mission-critical vs. business-critical: similarities and differences

Mission-critical factors and systems are those without which a business is unable to operate. When compromised, they may cause injury or even loss of life. When a business-critical system or factor goes awry, however, the organization may face a financial loss or a loss of customers or employees, but the losses are merely economic in nature.

When a business-critical app or system fails, the organization can continue to function, even if productivity wanes or user experience is poor. Often, especially where technology is concerned, alternative systems are available to fill in while the business-critical system or app is repaired or restored. While the long-term failure of a business-critical app may cause serious economic damage to a company, a short-term failure might be no more than an inconvenience.

For example, if a paramedic or ambulance organization loses its communications system, loss of life is likely to result. Similarly, if the electrical power grid fails, even temporarily, organizations that rely on electricity to keep life-saving medical equipment running or freezers operational are likely to suffer badly. In contrast, if a financial institution’s online banking system goes down temporarily, the company may have to deal with angry customers, but any losses will affect profits and productivity, making them merely business-critical. An application or system that’s mission-critical in one industry might be business-critical or even low priority (and non-critical) in another field.

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How helps you identify mission-critical points in projects

Identifying the potential failure of mission-critical elements minimizes the chances of disaster striking your company. While you can’t predict all mission-critical compromises and certainly have no control over, say, the power grid failing,’s tools can help you identify areas of mission-critical risk so you can take the necessary precautions to protect your business against worst-case scenarios.

For example, backing up crucial data can ensure that a tech breakdown doesn’t result in loss of all your customer data. In the same way, taking cybersecurity precautions, such as installing firewalls, can protect that same mission-critical data against hacking and other cyber threats.

Among the many tools offers is a Program Risk Register Template that helps you conduct your own risk assessment so you can identify where mission-critical risks lie and develop plans to minimize damage from those risks. The mission-critical factors you identify could include:

  • Environmental risks, including severe weather (think of a storm that shuts your operation down temporarily)
  • Health risks that could sideline your employees (such as, say, a pandemic that puts your employees into quarantine)
  • Breakdown or loss of critical equipment
  • Supply chain disruptions that prevent you from receiving crucial tools, materials or medications
  • Loss of critical human resources so that your operations are hampered or your reputation is severely damaged
  • Loss of funding

Using’s tools to help identify these risks is a first step toward protecting your business and your projects. These tools then help you categorize these risks according to their probability and their impact on your business. With that information, you can prioritize which mission-critical elements to handle first. From there, you can create contingency plans and see where you need backups, whether they pertain to data, equipment, power, or human resources.’s tools also help you keep a close eye on mission-critical factors in real time, so you can take immediate action should something start to go wrong.

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Frequently asked questions

What does “mission critical” mean?

“Mission critical” is a term that describes any system, app, task or service that is necessary for operational functioning. When a mission-critical system or service fails, the entire business or organization is shut down and unable to function.

What are mission-critical applications?

While the specifics of mission-critical applications vary from one business to the next, utilities and IT infrastructure are mission-critical to most businesses. If these are lost, the business must stop operations.

What is mission-critical data?

Again, mission-critical data varies across industries and organizations. Generally, though, it is information that is needed in order for an operation to proceed. Depending on the business, this might include accounting or financial data, customer data, trade secrets, logistics and supply chain information, and compliance-related data.

Protecting mission-critical systems for long-term success

When a mission-critical system fails, your entire business is immediately at risk. Understanding which apps, systems, and factors are mission-critical to a project can be the dividing line between success and a complete crash-and-burn scenario. The project management features from help you keep an eye on these mission-critical factors so you can develop contingency plans and know when it’s time to put them into action.

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