Project management, especially within small to mid-size enterprises, often is left to the CIO or VP of IS because IT budgets don’t allow for project management leaders or full-blown project management offices. That may mean project management doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In some situations, CIOs don’t realize that project management efforts in their companies need improvement to be effective. To identify whether project management needs attention to reach its full benefit potential in your organization, answer the following questions:

  • Does your project portfolio for 2003 look a lot like the 2002 project portfolio?
  • Are you balancing too many projects?
  • Are new project requests springing up every day?
  • Do you lack confidence about dates and costs for your existing projects?

If any of those questions draws a yes, it’s a good time to review the “basics” of project management and get control of the new projects for this year.

This is the BASIC information CIOs need to gather and implement:

  • Business case
  • Assign responsibility
  • Success metrics
  • Impact on other projects
  • Communication

Understanding the business case
An IT project should be a solution to a business problem. The technology deliverables may only be a partial solution, requiring other changes within the organization to be successful. The project will help to increase revenue, lower costs, improve quality, or meet a similar performance metric.

At a minimum, the business case should:

  • State the problem to be solved.
  • Calculate the value of solving the problem, or the cost of ignoring it.
  • Describe the solution to the problem.
  • Include estimates of the budget, resources, and time required to complete the project.
  • Identify the customer—the manager of the business unit that will receive the product or service produced by the project team.
  • Identify the sponsor—the person or organization paying for the project.

Assigning responsibility
A project is an investment in the business and is designed to produce a return. We almost always assign a project manager, and expect him or her to carefully manage the cost and schedule of the project.

When was the last time you, or your organization, assigned a senior business executive the responsibility of achieving the expected benefits of a project? This seldom happens. More often than not, companies spend large amounts of money and time on a project, and never measure whether they received the desired benefits.

The executive assigned responsibility for the benefits of the project should be in the business unit that derives the benefits, and of sufficient rank that the benefits can be written into his or her performance goals.

Identifying success metrics
Before you start any project, you must determine what success looks like. Is it lowering the cost per transaction from fifty cents to ten cents? Is it raising your average customer satisfaction score from 2.9 to 3.2? The success criteria should be important results for the business, not for the technology team.

The discussion to determine the criteria involves the customer, the sponsor, and the project manager, at a minimum. The project manager initiates the discussion and documents the results.

Documented project success criteria help guide decision making through the life of the project.

The project’s impacts
Before you start a new project, understand how the new project will affect all ongoing projects—will some be delayed, and by how much?

You’ll have to do some prioritizing—projects with a higher priority than the new project are not likely to be affected.

Often, the impact of a new project will be that scarce resources aren’t available to work on the affected projects until a later date. In this case, a simple schedule revision of the current plan may be all that is required.

You should also review the business case for each of the affected projects. A simple project delay could have business consequences, such as the project being completed too late to achieve desired benefits. Delays can push a project past a fiscal boundary and jeopardize funding.

Larger companies often use a project management office (PMO) to manage the dependencies between projects. If you don’t have a PMO structure in place, you’ll need to put in extra effort to convene the project managers from the impacted projects to make sure everyone has a clear view of the new priorities and understands the impact of the new project.

The need for communication
The project manager must be a full-time communicator, constantly interacting with team members and all the stakeholders. The BASIC project information about benefits and success metrics can help to bridge the communication gap that often exists between technology professionals and business professionals. The BASIC information is relevant for your proposed new projects. It’s also applicable to existing projects, especially if your organization lacks a rigorous approach to project management.

Dealing with basic hurdles
If you lack some BASIC information on a project, the first step is to stop work on the project. Gather the relevant stakeholders and get the BASIC information together. When you get agreement on the business outcome and the other needed information, you should be in great shape to proceed.

If you can’t get closure on your BASIC project information, stopping the project is appropriate. There is no value in proceeding with an effort that lacks support of the business unit.

To help you get a good start on the BASIC approach, I’ve created a downloadable checklist. The suggestions for BASIC project information are simple but powerful. Keeping a clear vision of the business impact and success criteria helps keep the project team focused and your business clients engaged in achieving a successful project.

With a clear business outcome for every project in your portfolio, you can build a foundation for positive business results.