WHEN YOU TAKE A NEW CIO JOB or similar executive position, what can you do right off to give yourself the greatest chance of success? That\u2019s one of the questions I get asked most frequently.There\u2019s no doubt that the most successful CIOs take the time to assess the lay of the land before digging in to a new job. That means working through progressively deeper levels of understanding and commitment as you move from investigation of your choices to contract negotiation to those first months on the job. Here\u2019s the best of what I\u2019ve learned.Your Starting PointBefore you take any new job, you must understand where you\u2019ll be starting. That means getting a good view of all the different elements that can have an impact on you.Industry and market dynamics. Having experience in an industry or sector doesn\u2019t necessarily mean you\u2019ve taken a step back to analyze the macroeconomic trends (is it mature or developing?), market dynamics (what is the competitive situation?) and structural trends (are there likely to be major technological or regulatory disruptions?). As the past year has shown, these dynamics can have a huge effect on your success.The enterprise. Many CIOs neglect to assess the overall business. What is the history and current financial picture? What is in the current investment portfolio, including not just technology projects but also business projects? How mature are the company\u2019s business and management processes? Don\u2019t forget to ask for any recent independent reports or analyses. The people. In considering your potential colleagues, assess not only their leadership abilities, style, character, competence and chemistry but also their track record and likelihood of staying. I\u2019ve heard countless stories of people unhappy with their jobs because they joined the company excited about working with a particular person, only to have him leave soon after. Look key people in the eye and ask them point blank what their plans are.The job. I believe in not only knowing a position\u2019s history but also viewing its description as a rough draft that can be edited during a period of negotiation. Think about how the position has changed over time and the people who have had it, as well as those who may want it now. What are the scope, the reporting relationships and the unwritten expectations?The setting. Take into account everything from your physical location and travel expectations to your office, support and technology needs. Nothing\u2019s too small to get right from the start.Your DestinationThe second aspect of getting the lay of the land involves defining what you\u2019re going to be confronting. Problems and opportunities. In most organizations, there are too many opinions, too few facts and multiple points of view. You\u2019ll need to make your own assessment. Then judge the probability of getting collective buy-in on a direction. I\u2019ve seen companies and good CIOs waste years solving the wrong problems and trying unsuccessfully to redefine them.Success and failure. The next task is to define success or failure specifically enough so that the key players all can agree. Central considerations will be the specificity of your destination, how fast you have to get there, what risks you can take and what resource constraints you\u2019ll be operating under.Strategies and tactics. Aligning goals and defining success won\u2019t help you if there isn\u2019t a common view of strategies and tactics for which route to take. Many of them may be written in a strategic plan. Few will be effectively translated into the realities of execution. It will be vital for you to get a sense of the organization\u2019s capacity for formulating and executing strategy well.Blind spots and biases. Probe unmercifully for sacred cows, sludge projects, unwritten rules, cultural dark sides and any other things that might jump out of the closet at you to make your life miserable and your job impossible. Time. One of the hardest things to get a sense of during interviews is the timing and rhythm of work. What shot clocks are running? Where are the long lead times that haven\u2019t been thought about? It\u2019s vital to obtain clear expectations from the top about any areas where time pressure is significant. I know one executive who found himself in a job with a hidden key project failure that absorbed nearly all of his time for the first year. By then, he had lost credibility as well as all his energy.Full Steam AheadNow how do you get the job done? The devil is in the details, but you won\u2019t have the leverage to negotiate them once you\u2019ve signed a deal. So make sure you get them right beforehand.Assets. The practical details start with your budget and other key resources. The best advice I\u2019ve heard is to get a budget bigger than you need, if at all possible; that way you can give some of it away during the early part of your tenure, thereby enhancing your position and relationships with peers. Control. Clearly understand your authority and accountability: where it is sole and where it is collective. In collective situations, what is your position and degree of power? Also, don\u2019t forget to anticipate changes of control and get terms in your contract that give you freedom and protect your assets. Finally, control is just as important in your eventual exit. Anticipate all scenarios and provide for them before you start.People. If the existing staff isn\u2019t up to the issues you\u2019ll be tackling, you\u2019ll need to get the time, resources and approval?up front?to bring in a new team.Access. Make sure you know how much time?and how often?you\u2019ll have to meet with your CEO. Identify other leaders you\u2019ll need access to and try to get agreements there as well. Compensation. Finally, make sure you\u2019re taken care of in salary, benefits, performance bonuses, equity, severance benefits and other sweeteners. If you\u2019ve never done so, ask a quality attorney or CIO acquaintance to share some of the best contracts or agreements they\u2019ve seen.No matter where you are in your career, the problems you face in a new position will be tough enough, so give yourself the best possible chance of success before you start.