To Avoid Failure, First Define Success

Project management tools can measure whether you're achieving your goals. But you have to know what you want to accomplish

CIOs and project experts may favor certain project management software and techniques, but the tool doesn't matter so much as having a formal structure to measure project progress. Without clear metrics, work can go undone and accountability disappears, says Michael Krigsman, president of Asuret, a consultancy that specializes in helping companies avoid project failures.

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Using a project management methodology, such as the practices recommended by the Project Management Institute (PMI), provides a way to structure a project so that major steps are taken in a logical order. Key players, including the project manager, sponsor, creators and ultimate users of the finished product, have designated roles and responsibilities. Management tools, such as Artemis ProjectView, Microsoft Project and the open-source Project.net, can help the team record accomplished tasks and track overall status. However, the best project methodologies cannot overcome problems created by personal agendas, conflicts and lack of alignment between groups inside the organization, says Krigsman.

CIOs must work hard to make sure everyone agrees on a project's goals and mostly agrees on how the project will run, says Adam Bricker, CIO at World Vision International, a non-governmental relief, development and advocacy organization. Getting agreement entails not only talking about key points, but also recording them, Bricker says. World Vision did this recently for an ongoing project to install financial management systems in 45 developing countries.

Start by stating your goals and the scope of the project, Bricker advises; define what, specifically, you expect to accomplish. Also, write out examples of how people's everyday work lives will change as a result of the project. All stakeholders should then sign the papers.

Just as CIOs sign contracts with consulting firms, colleagues at the same company can formalize their understanding this way, he says. "There's a sense of commitment when people sit across the table and say, 'Do we have agreement?'"

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