In 2003, the FBI undertook the massive initiative of consolidating its data into one centralized case management system and upgraded to the new Virtual Case File (VCF) system, a networked system used for tracking criminal cases.  However, more than a year and $170 million later, the VCF was far from operational, and the costs continued to pile high because the project lacked specific requirements, clear milestones and effective oversight.  Despite their efforts, the FBI was left with a useless system and had no choice but to dispose of it and start over again from scratch.

 But how could a costly project turn out to be a total loss?  Post analysis revealed that a large number of best practices in project management involving budget and activity tracking, cross-team scheduling, and communications difficulties lead to significant shortfalls that ultimately lead to the demise of the entire project.  Had the FBI followed these best practices, many of these issues could have been avoided.  In this article we will explore a number of these best practices and explain how adherence to them can mean the difference between total failure and complete success in your next project, no matter how large or small it may be.

 Challenges of Project Management

 A project can be defined as a venture to create or overhaul a process, product or service.  It should have a clearly defined plan with timelines, budgets and measurable deliverables that are necessary to accomplish the project’s objective.  But, in order to attain this success, the correct combination of people, processes and tools must be put in place to recognize the source of both common and unique project challenges.  Examples of these challenges include:

  • Communicating with stakeholders
  • Tracking and monitoring the on-going project status
  • Maintaining a unified goal at all levels of the organization
  • Assigning employee responsibilities, accountabilities, deadlines and performance evaluations
  • Managing and defusing present issues, while identifying and preventing potential problems
  • Properly allocating resources and employee availability
  • Managing employee stress and project pressure
  • Minimizing scope creep

When a project is poorly managed, a great opportunity exists for these challenges to prevent your organization from achieving its goals or for the entire project to become derailed, as seen with the FBI.  So how can your organization protect its investments and make sure that projects are completed with optimal results?

Keys to Project Success

“A classic problem…you find yourself at the “end” of a project, 90% done, but you will have already spent 100% of the budget.  And it’s going to take the second 100% of the budget to get that last 10% completed because, the truth is, you’re not really know where you are.” – Don Shafer, Author & CTO

A successful project achieves its goals within the timeline, budget and resources allocated.  But, in order to ensure the optimum level of success, a number of key factors must be considered managed.  The first of which is effective project planning.

It is imperative that all your projects be developed with an accurate and full understanding of the current and desired state of your business.  A detailed business analysis of the problem or issue to be addressed is required to understand and determine the necessary steps towards your desired outcome.  This analysis will determine the project objective, focus and the approach for resolution.  Without a clearly defined objective established through this analysis, your project can easily go off course, fall behind schedule, exceed the budget, or ultimately fail.

Another key factor impacting the success of a project is the project plan itself.  The project plan should include an overall estimate of the time to complete the project and a detailed evaluation of the resources required.  Included in the project plan should be resource responsibilities, accountabilities, deliverables and timelines.  Additionally, it should outline related project risks that need to be assessed, monitored, minimized and mitigated.

And, although a unified goal may be established in the minds of the project team, a major key to success is the project manager.  An experienced, people-oriented project manager will be able to manage all aspects of the project effectively.  The project manager must have a clear understanding of the day-to-day tasks and resources needed to achieve the desired goals and must do an effective job of delegating responsibilities and keeping staff on track.  Utilizing the right project management tools can help manage these tasks in an efficient manner while providing accurate methods to quantify and measure the project’s success in terms of its business value.

Project Managers are Band Leaders

“Project managers function as bandleaders who pull together their players, each a specialist with an individual score and internal rhythm.  Under the leader’s direction, they all respond to the same beat.” – L.R. Sayles

A project manager ensures that the individuals involved with the project have a clear understanding of their tasks and responsibilities, and that they have access to the resources and time required to execute their tasks efficiently.  Project managers must also communicate the needs and progress of the project to the stakeholders, and be aware of potential problems and risks that may occur during the project’s progress.  Successful project managers must have:

  • Broad perspective and understanding of the organization in which they are working
  • People management skills
  • Organizational planning capabilities
  • Communication skills
  • Cross functional team leadership skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Presentation skills

The implications of not having an effective project manager are endless.  Without clear guidance, employees may be stressed, confused, frustrated or working inefficiently.  This can cause a project to quickly fall off schedule or exceed its budget.  Project managers are vital in preventing these issues from occurring because they are not only drivers and enablers, but also controllers.  Effective project managers also need to be able to think ahead and be able to adjust a project plan to mitigate risks and potential problems that may occur along the way.


Successful project management requires a very specific set of skills.  Challenges and issues will always arise; but when you combine effective planning, analysis and objective building with detail oriented project managers maintaining effective team oversight you can ensure that all of your projects will be delivered successfully.

“The single best payoff in terms of project success comes from having good project definition early.” – Rand Corp.

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