The addition of HCN to alkenes is a very useful reaction for the synthesis of functional organic substrates. Industrially the nickel-catalyzed hydrocyanation has gained considerable importance mainly because of the production of adiponitrile in the DuPont process. In this process the hydrocyanation of butadiene is carried out using aryl phosphite-modified nickel catalyst. Since the performance of organo-transition metal complexes is largely determined by the ligand environment of the metal, fundamental understanding and ligand development is of pivotal importance for any progress. This feature article gives an account of the development and application of different mono- and bidentate phosphorus-based ligands in the Ni-catalyzed hydrocyanation reaction of alkenes. Special attention will be paid to the development of insight and understanding of the ligand structural and electronic properties towards the improvement of the catalyst performance in terms of stability, activity, and selectivity.