TOD NEWCOMBE | FEATURES EDITOR
ONE GOVERNMENT IT DEPARTMENT AFTER ANOTHER IS ADDING THE TITLE OF PROJECT MANAGER TO ITS LIST OF AVAILABLE POSITIONS. THATS GOOD NEWS FOR AGENCIES THAT NEED THE MANAGEMENT SKILLS, BUT BAD NEWS FOR OLD-TIME PROGRAMMERS.
Ask most people what they remember about the Millennium Bug, and theyll tell you what didnt happen: computers didnt crash, cash machines didnt shut down, utility systems didnt go off line and general technological Armageddon didnt occur. But ask a government chief information officer, and he or she will tell you what did happen: deadlines were met, benchmarks were set and results were measured.
In other words, Y2K was the ultimate job for project management. By and large, every governmental entity found out they could do the job right through careful planning, scheduling and testing. "Clearly, Y2K confirmed that project management makes a difference," said George Boersma, Michigan CIO. "Y2K helped state agencies realize how much they needed a disciplined approach to managing IT projects."
With proof in hand, a growing number of government IT departments have begun to set up internal project management offices to offer expert advice to agencies undertaking IT projects and to train other IT and business managers in the art and science of project management. For some CIOs, improving their governments dismal success rate with IT projects is reason enough to invest in project management programs.
For others, training their staff to become project managers instead of programmers is a response to changes in the IT industry and government. "Aside from Web projects, were doing more coordination and less programming," explained Gail Roper, director of the Kansas City Information Technology Department. "We are purchasing more canned software and developing fewer custom applications. When you take that approach, you are looking more at data gathering and customer needs -- things that require coordination and project management."
Highlighting this trend is the growing role of electronic government, which is putting customer-centric services on the Internet. These browser-based solutions are predicated on enterprise-wide, multi-agency applications, which require a high degree of project management expertise in order to get off the ground and succeed. Industry forecasts predict that a majority of government services will be electronic, Web-based offerings, making project management a skill of paramount importance in the years ahead.
No More Half-Baked Ideas
For years, project failure seemed a fact of life for most information technology departments in government: too many custom-coded applications for systems managed by IT professionals who had little grounding in the skills of project and risk management. IT research firms annually rolled out surveys that showed that an average of six out of 10 IT projects were completed over budget, behind schedule or failed altogether.
But with Y2K, IT departments faced the stark reality of an IT project that could not fall behind schedule or fail. Suddenly, project management skills, methodologies and tools took on a priority never seen before in government IT projects. Cities, counties and states got serious about managing risk, metrics, benchmarks and results. For once, the world of "half-baked ideas," as project management expert Kopal Gapur calls them, went out the window, replaced by disciplined Y2K teams who inventoried every hardware and software asset, set schedules that had to be met and measured results to ensure success.
Governments, for the first time, had information about the technology they owned. They also had documentation about existing applications, risk assessments for the most vulnerable applications and new lines of communication with agencies that had previously ignored the central IT department. The most disciplined IT departments set up internal Y2K offices, which became the seeds for project management offices after January.
"We started our Y2K office two years ago," recalled