NextGov reported on 9 Nov 2009, that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that “forecasts $3 billion in cost overruns on 16 major projects.”
What’s so of baffling is that these overruns occurred despite the agency’s use of earned value management.
According to Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at GAO, “Every one of the agencies had major problems in determining earned value management…as a result the agencies were unable to accurately identify the progress contractors had made on IT projects.”
These finding are expected to drive the 2009 Information Technology Oversight and Waste Prevention Act to increase oversight of IT investments.
This bill calls for “a Web site to publish information on the status of federal IT investments, similar to the Federal IT Dashboard,” but with more accurate data and with explanations on why projects are over budget.
Certainly, the use of measurements and dashboards to display and track these are helpful in understanding how we are doing in managing our IT investments—so they are on schedule, within budget, and to customer specification.
Clearly, we can only begin to better manage that which we measure and track. Our IT investments and their execution are no longer a black box or so it’s supposed to work.
However, to make these metrics and dashboard effective to improve IT execution, there are a number of critical success factors:
- Transparency—This is a concept that is in common use these days, and we need to continue to put it in action. All IT investments need to be measured, not just the “major” ones, and their success and failures need to be visible. The purpose must not to scrutinize or shame project managers, but to be able to genuinely guide projects to successful conclusions. This is what the control phase of capital planning and investment control is all about. We need to course correct projects early and often, if necessary, before they are billions of dollars out of control.
- Honesty in Reporting—Projects need to be reported accurately—no gaming the system. If the facts are sugarcoated or whitewashed, then no dashboard in the world is going to catch the problems that are misreported to begin with. Unfortunately with project management, the elements of scope, schedule, and cost can be manipulated to make it seem as if a project is okay, when it isn’t. One example is de-scoping the project to enable a delivery on schedule and on cost, even though what’s being delivered is not what was asked for or agreed upon.
- Skills Enhancement—With better measurement of IT investments, we need to provide more training to our project managers. We can’t just expect perfection day 1. We need to work with people and grow them to be better project managers. We can do this with training, mentoring, coaching, and so on. Remember, it’s generally the people that make the IT project a success or failure, not the technology—so let’s invest in our people to make them better project managers.
- Accountability—We shouldn’t be looking to exact a pound of flesh for genuine human foibles—mistakes do happen. But at the same time, people must be held accountable for fraud, waste, and abuse. Sometimes, people get complacent and they need a reminder that there are real implications to an IT project’s success or failure—mission and people are depending on you to do your job, so you had better do it responsibly and to the best of your ability.
- Continuous Improvement—Ever since business school, I’ve always loved the Japanese management practice of Kaizen—continuous improvement. This concept is right on the mark with our IT investment and project execution. We are not going to magically put up a dashboard and whoola—better IT projects. It’s going to be a process, a transformation over time. We need to incrementally improve our IT project success rate through learning measurement, and best practices implementation. Of course, time is money, and we need to move quickly, but we do not want to artificially create the appearance of short-term performance improvement at the expense of genuine long-term success.
All the power to IT performance measurement and dashboarding, but with the absolute commitment to not only track and measure, but also grow and improve our customer results. It’s not a gotcha that we need, but a how can we help you succeed.