Authority and Accountability

LinkedInJim recently asked LinkedIn’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) Network Group: With the failure rate of IT projects so high, what should the CEO do about it?

Here’s how I answered:

Complications go hand-in-hand with complex projects. So, THAT a project runs into problems isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s often just an indicator of the project’s inherent complexity. Assuming the ‘hiccup’ is brought to the proper people’s attention in a timely-enough manner, though, two things are typically needed to get a project unstuck:

(1) some sort of judgment call as to which fork in the road to take – for which all sorts of people will think they know best; and

(2) organizational clarity and alignment as to who actually has the authority (and, as importantly, who does not) to make that judgment call – for which there can only be one ultimate ‘decider.’ (Note: It doesn’t have to be the same ‘decider’ for all issues; but each issue has to have an ultimate ‘decider.’)

So what can a CEO (or any leader) do? Ensure that: (a) everyone on a project knows who the ‘decider’ is for any given issue; and (b) the ‘decider,’ whoever s/he is, knows that his/her performance will be evaluated not only on the choices s/he makes, but on the level of commitment s/he obtains from those who would have chosen otherwise.

Does this guarantee project success? No. Bad judgment can derail a project just as easily as failures to decide. But with this authority/accountability in place, the probability of projects stalling will significantly decrease, which would be a definite improvement.

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