discounted pricing for classes. Instead of negotiating on a per-student basis, Garrett negotiated lump sums. "I'd say 'I need a favor -- I need you to come in and train, but I only have $5,000. Can you do it?' The big companies all turned me down -- it wasn't enough money for them."

However, Garrett found many of the smaller firms were willing to work with her. Using small training companies like IT Solutions, Professional Services and Technically Speaking, Garrett was able to launch a Project Management Academy last November.

First Steps

The first class offered at Virginia's Project Management Academy was Negotiations. "Four of our major projects were in negotiations with vendors and none of our people had the skill sets to negotiate," Garrett said. "Therefore, I decided the first class we needed was a negotiations class. We rearranged the schedule and the curriculum so we could start with negotiations and come back to project management."

Project management classes are now held three days a week, with a total of 14 classes making up the academy. Once a student completes all 14 classes, he or she receives a certificate from Virginia's secretary of public safety.

Anyone involved in managing one of nine IT projects over $1 million currently under way in Virginia is required to attend the academy. In addition, all eleven public safety CIOs must attend. As Garrett explained, the CIOs don't necessarily need the training, but having them there gives their employees a sense of support.

"A lot of employees are afraid to report anything because they aren't sure how their CIO is going to take it," said Garrett. "When their CIO is sitting next to them in class, they find out they don't know everything either. People are now more open and there is a huge information exchange that has never occurred before."

Naseem Reza, CIO for the Virginia State Police and one of 36 people who make up the first academy, agreed. "By attending these classes you get to know people from other agencies that have similar missions," said Reza. "A lot of times on a technical issue we call each other and confer and share knowledge."

"In the last administration there was a big gap -- the people at the Cabinet level gave the directions and didn't understand what went on at the agency," Garrett said. "That mindset in public safety has already changed. It is not uncommon for a CIO to call me to report a major problem immediately, where during the last administration they were afraid to even dial the number. Now they know there is a peer they can talk to that can help resolve the problem before it gets to the governor's office."

Garrett often helps teach the courses, which also keeps costs down. None of Virginia's Project Management classes cost more then $350 per student, and the average cost is $220.

More Effective Communication

Dee Pisciella, CIO for Virginia's Department of Corrections, is currently enrolled in the Project Management Academy. "It brings the public safety agencies under a similar system of handling IT projects. CIOs meet frequently and share experiences and resources with each other. If you are all working on the same, standardized process, it becomes a much more effective communication and support effort," Pisciella said. "I think the end result will be the commonwealth will save considerable money and produce more and more successful technology projects."

According to Garrett, the commonwealth already has saved between $5 million and $7 million by leveraging its purchasing, practicing knowledge management, selecting and controlling investments, and implementing project management techniques.

But Garrett sees the overall goal of the academy as more than saving money. She wants to prove that a state can take control of its own project management training and come out on top.

"We want to be more accountable and more sound in our judgment and selection of projects," she said. "We want project managers and CIOs to look at what they are taking on and make sure they weigh it against the status quo. What are the benefits? What is the increased functionality? And then, of course, we want them to make the right decision."

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer