Screening IT projects at the start could be a boon -- but it's got to be done right.
First there was TechStat. Agency leaders grumbled, but some troubled projects did get attention. Then came PortfolioStat. The grumbling didn't stop, but the Government Accountability Office says the process could produce $5.8 billion in savings, so investment portfolio reviews are here to stay.
And now there's Pre-Stat -- or there will be once the Office of Management and Budget figures out how major IT projects should be prescreened to maximize the chances for success. We'll see how agencies react to yet another oversight and review effort.
Obama administration officials have been talking for some time about ways to identify troubled projects earlier in the process, and the outlines of Pre-Stat were sketched at a May 8 Senate hearing. The core concepts are clear and the goal unimpeachable: Who wouldn't want to ensure that big IT projects are planned right and launched with the best possible support and resources?
And there's not even much debate over the metrics. ACT-IAC has suggested a solid framework that rightly focuses on the risks that must be managed "up and out" as well as the more obvious challenges that demand "across and down" attention. Recent articles in FCW have outlined similar principles -- see, for example, "Program Management: The People Factor" -- and other experts in industry and government can offer checklists and best practices.
Ultimately, the key will be how the process is implemented. Will it be a collaborative effort in which OMB and agencies work together to tune and improve critical projects? Or will it be a top-down, adversarial sort of oversight that feels like a pre-inquisition?
TechStat reviews have their shortcomings, but that initiative's biggest stumbling block was the way it was introduced. It might have been intended as a tool to help agencies, but many executives perceived it as another audit imposed on them.
The early signs suggest that Pre-Stat will strike a better balance between support and oversight. We're hoping -- and watching.
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.