Survey: Agencies lack well-trained IT project leaders, managers

Although the government can prevent information technology projects from going awry by starting with a firm baseline marker for guidance, government IT executives say they lack the resources necessary to build realistic baselines, according to a new survey.

A survey of 104 government IT executives found that they recognize their inadequate training in areas critical to making projects successful. More than three-quarters of respondents said they had no adequate training or were unsure of their training regarding many critical elements to successfully handling an IT project, such as managing a project’s risk or estimating its costs.

The top reasons for budget overruns and other problems are poorly managed programs, ever-widening scope of the projects, bad baselines and a failure to understand projects’ risks too late into the process, according to the survey, titled “A Cracked Foundation.”

“What they are telling us is they don’t know how to do these things,” said Larry Reagan, vice president of Price Systems’ Government Solutions Division, in a phone interview Nov. 29. The company commissioned the survey.

The executives said they believe that they could prevent more projects from failing if they could set a good baseline, the survey states. The savings could equal about $5.5 billion, according to the survey. The figure is based on a Government Accountability Office statement that the government wasted $12 billion in the fiscal 2007 budget because of poor planning and performance.

The executives’ responses show that 78 percent say their project teams do not have adequate training or are unsure that they have enough training in estimating a project’s costs, 77 percent say they lack enough training in identifying risk and managing it, 73 percent say the same for developing an initial baseline, and 67 percent lack training in managing a technical project, according to the survey.

“The government has to become an educated consumer,” said Anthony DeMarco, president and managing member of Price Systems.

To cut down on failed programs, Reagan and DeMarco said agencies should assign responsibility for staying on budget, train employees and review baselines regularly and independently.

They also recommended teaming employees who estimate costs, control the project and have knowledge of the program to better grasp the project overall.

Most importantly, DeMarco said agencies need to have a framework on which to build future projects. Simply relying on past bids or on program managers who think they can do more with fewer resources is almost malpractice.

Of the 104 government executives surveyed, 57 percent have more than 10 years of government service experience.

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