Many of the IT project managers who filed into a session of the California Project Academy on June 20 in Rancho Cordova were early. The “Fix 50” Highway construction project that delayed traffic for some time finished ahead of schedule, and expected delays evaporated.
State CIO Carlos Ramos said he thought “Fix 50” was managed well. Upfront communications were handled, anticipated disruptions were well publicized, and when the project was finished and the cones collected, things returned to the way they had been. Sort of.
Well-managed IT projects differ in one important respect, said Ramos. When the project is finished, things don’t return to the way they have been. Many things will be different, and a successful transition to a new way of doing things is critical.
“So that’s what this is about today,” he said, “how you transition from a project mode to a new way of doing business.”
Ramos cited two major projects that successfully weathered their transitions – the California Child Support Automation System (CCSAS) and Covered California, the state’s Affordable Care Act health insurance site.
While the federal healthcare.gov site’s troubles are well known, “Here in California, our system worked,” said Ramos. “The managers responsible were under a lot of pressure, with a very short time frame, with very big and very visible responsibilities," he said, “and they accomplished it.”
Two of the Project Academy presenters – Anthony Blue and Catherine Lanzaro of the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) — were veterans of the CCSAS implementation and transition. In this particular project, not only did the technology change, but administration of the program transitioned from local government to the state. In addition, Lanzaro and Suzie McBride, also of DCSS, were recent graduates of the Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA 21).
This process of enlisting experienced state IT managers to formally train the next generation began in 1990 with the Data Processing Manager’s Academy, offering courses in project management, resource control, customer service and related topics. ITLA and the year-old Project Academy are the most recent expressions of the need to keep up with the latest developments while folding in the expertise and successful actions of those who have learned by experience. So when the cones are stacked and hauled away, the transition team is already in action.