New office will try to keep IRS project specs in line

Before the IRS’ new taxpayer database finally saw the light of day last year, it had to be cured of an extreme case of scope creep.

During the Customer Account Data Engine’s development, IRS kept adding requirements, and prime contractor Computer Sciences Corp. would not say no. Consequently, the project bogged down for more than three years.

Once is enough

To avoid repeating the mistake—CADE isn’t the only modernization project gone awry—the IRS is setting up a new office to keep projects contained and on track.

Through the Requirements Management Office, officials plan to implement a process for developing system requirements and to support business process redesign work so future efforts stay on budget and on schedule.

“The discipline of developing and managing comprehensive and traceable requirements sets is essential to making IT projects successful,” said Richard Spires, associate CIO for Business Systems Modernization.

Requirements management involves establishing what a project needs to be able to do, keeping tabs on any changes to the requirements, and making sure business units and the contractors stay on the same page.

The requirements office will help ensure that a disciplined approach becomes fundamental to all IRS modernization projects, an IRS official who requested anonymity said.

Officials hope the office will resolve and prevent problems arising from faulty requirements and lax management—factors that have contributed to ballooning costs and schedule delays of its modernization projects.

The requirements team began providing business process redesign services in January and expanded to project-specific requirements development last month.

Getting it together
While working on projects this year, the IRS requirements office is identifying lessons learned and recommending changes to the way the agency determines, analyzes and manages requirements. Over the next year, the office will integrate lessons and recommendations, and begin institutionalizing this new way of conducting requirements tasks across all IRS projects.

Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., and Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego are working with the IRS on the requirements office. Mitre helped develop the initial concept with industry research and best practices. IRS staff and domain experts from SAIC, the requirements development contractor, help interpret information gathered through the requirements process and supplement the IRS teams.

The decision to create the office was a response to many critical audits of IRS’ requirements process.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued 16 reports over the last three years identifying requirements development and management problems in IRS’ modernization projects. It found two recurring issues:
  • Project managers did not adequately identify requirements criteria, such as computer programming naming standards and financial reporting requirements, before starting development.

  • Managers did not trace all requirements to test cases to ensure operations would work as expected.

Once the office is fully established, it will go a long way to resolve the requirements problems that have plagued IRS modernization, said Peggy Begg, TIGTA’s assistant IG for information systems.

“That will include providing oversight for all participants involved in modernization requirements development and management activities. That’s a tremendous effort to try to bring discipline to the overall program and processes,” she said.

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