Rescue hero: James Shugars

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Rescue heroes

James Shugars came to the Food and Drug Administration when the Automated Drug Information Management System (ADIMS) was failing to meet its deadlines.

ADIMS is the centerpiece of a program that evaluates data and provides information on the safety and effectiveness of drugs. ADIMS had already accumulated a project cost of nearly $28 million.

In November 2004, the contractor was unable to produce an integrated master schedule or quality requirements. It looked as if the contractor would be ready only for a beta test in January 2005.

At that point, Shugars took charge of the project and rescued it. He had just arrived from the FBI in September 2004 to become the new deputy director of the Office of Information Technology at the Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research.

Shugars tried several innovative management techniques, combined with structured program management processes. He used an iterative development process to expose problems early in the development cycle and resolved them in weekly meetings with senior managers.

Shugars involved the business community in testing the iterations to give users an early look at how the system would operate. He used earned value management reporting to track the cost and schedule on a monthly basis.

As someone who is not a professionally certified project manager, he did plenty of by-the-book project management, he said.

Shugars used a number of tried and true tricks that have been developed by managers to make a project work. Users were involved early enough to give them input into how the system would operate. And he kept the contractors on track by implementing a metrics program to "track development performance against functionality and also track defects and change requests closely," he said.

Shugars' personal touch had a positive impact on the project, said Margo Burnette, director of the Office of IT.

"Shugars did not dictate the strategy but rather led the team to develop the strategy," Burnette said. "He drew out the strengths of team members in a variety of contributions and always engaged in analyzing the project to recommend approaches when there were roadblocks."

Burnette said Shugars instituted discipline throughout the project life cycle and tightened oversight and management of the program.

The new team completed an integrated project plan in February. The system was ready for installation in July, eight months after Shugars took over the program.

Advice from the pros

Name: James Shugars.

Title: Deputy Director of the Office of Information Technology.

Organization: Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration.

Project: Automated Drug Information Management System.

On managing people: "I manage people by ensuring everyone on the project team understands his or her responsibilities and stays within that framework during the development process," he said.

On managing processes: "I'm big on structured program management," he said. "I establish the processes early and get them documented, but I'm not afraid to change them if they need to be tweaked to meet certain circumstances."

On managing technology: "I let the engineers and architects make the technical decisions, but I will constantly challenge them to validate whether a particular approach will work," he said.

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