Feds Make Project Management Progress

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Why IT Projects Fail

Early warning signs to help you recognize and address problems before catastrophic failure occurs.

It was no surprise to see better project management and real-time course correction on a list of eight private-sector best practices the federal government could use to save money. The list was included in a 10-page report by the Technology CEOs Council, released late last year. The CEOs suggested practices such as business process management and organizational change management could improve the success rate of government projects.


Federal agencies have been trying for some time now to improve the success rate of their projects, with efforts such as the Department of Veterans Affairs' Program Management Accountability System (PMAS). While progress has been made, it seems there is still a long way to go.


Federal CIO Vivek Kundra appears committed to improvement, saying that beginning next month the government will provide detailed twice-yearly updates on how well agencies are implementing his 25-point federal IT reform plan. Created by Kundra and the Office of Management and Budget with collaboration from past and present federal CIOs, Congress and the private sector, the plan was released in December. It proposes major changes in federal IT governance and procurement as well as infrastructure and systems.


As InformationWeek reports, some progress has already been made, with the White House issuing an official cloud computing strategy, launching a myth-busting campaign about acquisition risks, and identifying some $20 billion in federal IT spending that could eventually shift to the cloud.


Addressing the need for regular updates, Kundra told attendees at the General Services Administration's annual Interagency Resources Management Conference:

For too long in Washington, you have had these beautiful reports on the state of federal IT, but nothing gets implemented. We wanted to make sure nothing we proposed hadn't or couldn't be done, and we want to make sure the public holds us accountable for what we accomplish or don't accomplish.

While transparency can help expose troubled projects, let's hope the report cards are more reliable than the Office of Budget and Management's IT Dashboard, a tool the Government Accountability Board has panned in two reports, one last July and another just released by the GAO. Both the OMB and agencies contributing data used for the dashboard are at fault, the GAO found. The OMB uses the dashboard to select IT projects for TechStat reviews, 60-minute meetings meant to analyze project problems and develop solutions.


Kundra, a major proponent of the reviews, spoke about them at a House subcommittee hearing, asking legislators to fund a $60 million account that would provide money for them. The OMB began conducting the reviews in January 2010. After 58 reviews, four projects were canceled and 10 others had some funding removed, resulting in some $3 billion in IT savings, according to Kundra.


A Washington Technology article provides a fairly optimistic take on the OMB's 25-point reform plan, recounting the headway made by several agencies and lauding the logical steps already taken, such as breaking the plan into six-month increments. It also touches on some of the challenges, mentioning the varied IT maturity levels of different agencies and the need for communication between agency IT executives and deputy secretaries.


The feds could probably make good use of some recommendations offered by a Wisconsin state Task Force on Information Technology Failures (ouch) back in 2008. Among them:

  • Create standardized written policies for IT project procedures and uniform IT policies and procedures across agency lines. Government agencies are finally starting to realize what manufacturers and other private sector companies have known for quite some time: Companies with standardized processes operate more efficiently and cost-effectively than their less-standardized peers.
  • Use off-the-shelf software whenever possible, and require approval for software customization.
  • Create work environments in which employees can raise and resolve issues.
  • Require executive sponsorship for all IT projects. I just cited a successful ERP implementation at TNG Worldwide, a private sector company, to illustrate the importance of a strong executive champion.