COMMENTARY

5 enduring flaws of IT performance

Alan Balutis, a founding member of the CIO Council, is a director in the Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco and editor of the forthcoming book “American Governance 3.0: Rebooting the Public Square?”

The federal government manages and oversees more than $2.5 trillion in annual budgets and hundreds of programs critical to the nation. But the federal landscape remains littered with runaway systems — projects that are over budget, behind schedule, and failing to deliver promised benefits and functionality.

For the past four years, a group of current and former government executives studied the reasons for project failure and, more important, the necessary actions to ensure success. Working under the auspices of the Partnership for Public Service, the group includes me, Dan Chenok of IBM, Greg Giddens of  the Veterans Affairs Department, Norm Lorentz of Grant Thornton, Emory Miller (recently retired from Robbins-Gioia), Stan Soloway of the Professional Services Council and Jim Williams of Daon.

Our focus has been on the delivery of the government’s mission in the forms of outcomes and results. Attention to that topic has risen significantly during the past several months. Let me summarize some of our observations, provide a definition of “program management” and outline the goals we set after defining the problems.

Observations

  • Today’s solutions and technologies are complex and span the boundaries of governments, agencies and applications. Driving change while managing current operations is difficult.
  • We do not consistently apply a successful and repeatable methodology for delivering program outcomes. We succeed when the stars align or through heroic efforts.
  • Unsuccessful programs continue to waste billions of dollars while failing to deliver needed services to people.
  • Enterprise-level change is compounded by legacy systems and embedded culture.

Program management defined

Program management, as a term of art, can be applied to major change programs or the running of day-to-day operations. In the context of our work, we focused on those disciplines associated with significantly transforming products, business processes, service delivery, IT capabilities, or all of the above. A major program can include several projects.

Problem statements and goals

Problem Statement 1: Program managers are often told to “find a way,” “get it done” or “make it happen.” They are frequently left to solicit help, resources and influence on their own.

Goal: Clarify all parties’ responsibilities and accountability for program results, including stakeholders and executives.

Problem Statement 2: Despite its proven value, program management is not recognized as an essential discipline for government performance, success and results. Advocacy for program management often resides with individuals, not organizations. Outside of a few agencies, program management is not institutionalized as an established management discipline and the way government and agency business is conducted.

Goal: Increase program performance and results by establishing program management as a discipline.

Problem Statement 3: There is no consistency across government in the training and development of program managers. There is no job series for program management established by the Office of Personnel Management and with graduating levels of responsibilities.

Goal: Establish a program management career field to recruit, sustain, and retain talent and expertise in program management.

Problem Statement 4: Program managers are not recognized across government. There is no network for federal program managers. There is no recognized alignment with the acquisition and business/program functions of government.

Goal: Improve the effectiveness of government by creating an environment in which federal program managers can collaborate and share best practices and lessons learned.

Problem Statement 5: Programs invoke change. They fail for many reasons, including inadequate governance, meaningless metrics and insufficient change capacity.

Goal: Improve agencies’ change capacity to enhance the success of organizational and program change.

We believe results begin with effective management built on a long legacy of successful practices that we refer to as program management.

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Reader comments

Mon, Nov 15, 2010 Booker Randy Mathis

“Today’s solutions and technologies are complex and span the boundaries of governments, agencies and applications”

Your first statement goes to the core of the software problem. Today’s software problems are complex and require highly adaptive practices. However, we continue to use a software development practice that is based upon the simple, linear, causal model.

As long as we continue to use the traditional software development practices, we will encounter problems. The reason is that the nature of the problem (complex adaptive systems) is inconsistent with the nature of the solution (simple linear development practice where software is manufactured through pseudo assembly lines called phases).

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 Biff

Sorry, but this is pablum. In my experience in a large Federal Department, we're dripping with program managers. Many of them are clueless, or they don't report accurately. What we need are people who will make decisions. People who will priotitize. People who will hold other people accountabel. We don't need another thousand suits clogging our calendars with useless meetings and conference calls. We need doers.

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