Does better project management really increase the chances an IT project will succeed? Virginia intends to prove that, done right, it does.

In 2000, several jurisdictions, including Scottsdale, Ariz., Kansas City and Michigan, began rolling out their own project management training programs (see The Ascendancy of the Project Manager by Tod Newcombe, November 2000). These efforts came partly in response to surveys showing that an average of six out of 10 IT projects were over budget, behind schedule or failed altogether.

Those jurisdictions soon found out project management programs weren't as simple as they anticipated. Setup proved to be expensive and time-intensive, requiring jurisdictions to impose a disciplined methodology on project preplanning, planning, design and development. These programs also needed to be led by an experienced -- and expensive -- project manager. As a result, some project management initiatives ran over budget and failed to accomplish their objectives.

Virginia officials were convinced better project management could increase IT project success. But taking a lesson from the struggles of other jurisdictions, the commonwealth decided to take a different approach.

A New Approach

In 2000, then-Secretary of Technology Donald Upson brought in a resident consultant for technology. Not yet ready to commit to a full-time project manager, Upson believed a consultant could give the state some insight into the area and do so more affordably. Twyla Garrett was brought on to provide those services. A veteran of several major IT projects for the federal government, Garrett had launched her own project management consultancy earlier that year.

Garrett was placed in the Virginia Department of Public Safety, which had $800 million in IT initiatives in the works. She quickly discovered the agency had no project management methodology.

"They didn't have any foundation in project management, and they hadn't taken on anything large scale before," said Garrett. "Large scale to them was $5 million, and they were about to embark on a $100 million project. I wanted to develop a project-management framework and methodology they could implement and a risk-management process they could utilize."

Garrett began by addressing the department's CIOs. The department consists of 11 agencies, each with its own CIO. Before Garrett came aboard, these officials had never formally worked together; some had never even met each other. Garrett immediately launched a CIO Steering Committee, where she discovered the CIOs weren't speaking the same language when it came to project management.

"The first thing we did was implement a glossary of common terms," she said. "We then sat everyone down and told them that in the next year we'd like to have everyone talking the same language."

Garrett recommended creating a project management academy to help begin the process and to implement common project-management methodologies. "Up to that point, we hadn't put forth a lot of standards. We had great goals, but agencies didn't have a chance to meet those goals because they didn't have the proper tools," she said. "They had nothing to say, 'I can obtain that goal because I know what it takes to get there.' We needed to give people the tools ? if they have the tools, then you can hold them accountable and judge whether they have passed or failed."

Although the idea was appealing, Virginia was in the midst of a budget crisis, and some of the first programs cut involved training and technology. But Garrett was determined. "I asked them if I thought of something creative and cost effective if they would let me do it. They agreed, so it was then up to me to figure out how."

Most other jurisdictions relied on private companies to supply project management training, often at a cost of $600 to $1,000 per student per course. Garrett knew that simply wouldn't fly in Virginia, so her solution was to secure

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer