Lisagor: One small step

We recently gathered 100 government project managers and asked them to address the top information technology program issues. The resulting discussions, while perhaps not earthshaking, were definitely one small step toward more successful IT programs.

Here are some of the observations they shared:

n Identify responsibilities. They vary depending on the nature of the project. Taking the time to define a project's starting point is necessary for measuring progress and success. A well-defined baseline can be used to assign responsibilities, manage expectations, help resolve differences among stakeholders and overcome cultural barriers. Then you can share project details with individuals based on their responsibilities.

n Involve employees early when analyzing alternatives, so they will have a stake in the final product. Use prototypes or a statement of objectives — the project's vendor can help with the latter. Consider larger business processes. Focus on gaps in strengths and weaknesses.

n Establish and integrate IT governance processes into projects and plan to measure their performance.

n Communicate with all employees involved in the project, and be honest. Make communications a critical success factor for every program.

n Develop a formal plan for managing risks. Clearly define requirements. But don't share risk management templates with stakeholders until you can explain how to apply them and know how to manage expectations.

n Use the business case process to aid in starting and managing your project, not just as a paper exercise. When making decisions, ask: What is the value of doing the project? What is the impact of not doing it? The Office of Management and Budget's Exhibit 300 is a good template to follow, even if you are not required to submit one.

n Appreciate the importance of earned value. The earned value section of the Exhibit 300 is difficult to fill out because the information is often missing from a contract's baseline. Past performance and cost/

schedule data can be hard to access or lacking. Managers have been slow to develop the ability to measure performance on many projects, but it is a skill worth cultivating.

n Have project managers shadow more senior program managers and participate in developing the Exhibit 300 business case for an entire program. Support creation of a career path for agency project managers. Also, update the job series to allow for a clear distinction between project and program managers.

n Guidelines to always keep in mind: Minimize dysfunctional behavior. Find ways to capitalize on successes. Align the scope of a project with its governance. Establish clear goals and objectives.

Those insights were expressed in only the first 20 minutes of the session at the Program Management Summit sponsored by FCW Events in November.

Lisagor is program chairman for the November 2005 Program Management Summit sponsored by FCW Events. He founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help IT executives accelerate and manage business growth. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at lisagor@celerityworks.com.

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