In May, California plans to unveil a Web-based dashboard that will let anyone track the progress of major state government technology projects.

The online tool will show if projects are on time and within budget, as well as track a series of other "vital signs" like user acceptance, political risk, technical viability and business value. Information will be updated monthly for the state's largest and most complex technology initiatives, said Adrian Farley, chief deputy director for policy and program management at California's Office of the Chief Information Officer.

The dashboard -- which will display progress across more than 15 categories using simple red, yellow, and green graphics -- will track all IT projects undertaken by California executive branch agencies, said Farley. The effort could be the first of its type in the nation, he added.

"In terms of the granularity of reporting, this is unprecedented," he said. "We're requiring a significant degree of transparency into project progress."

Project Management Overhaul

The dashboard is part of a larger initiative to standardize IT project management techniques throughout California state government. California CIO Teri Takai released new policies April 9 that spell out how agencies should manage technology deployments, as well as what information must be reported to the state CIO's office.

Besides feeding better public transparency, the reporting requirements let Takai's office provide tighter oversight of technology projects and give it the ability to step in when initiatives falter.

"We'll use the information to manage the overall portfolio of projects and ensure the investments the state is making continue to be relevant and valuable," Farley said. "Also, it provides an opportunity to see that we've got the right resources dedicated to projects and to intervene when necessary -- whether that means bringing in an external skilled resource or ensuring that the business folks are appropriately focused on the project."

Measuring Complexity

The new project management policies include a more sophisticated approach to rating the complexity of technology deployments. Previous guidelines looked primarily at the cost and technical difficulty, Farley said. The new policy takes into account a number of additional factors, including the political environment and whether a system must work across multiple layers of government.

Farley said the new assessment tools provide a more realistic estimate of the risks associated with a technology deployment. Such an approach may have helped prevent high-profile project failures like California's unsuccessful effort to replace its statewide child support system in the late 1990s, he said. Although the system was technically proficient, it ultimately was undone by politics and other outside factors. California abandoned the system in 1997, after five years of work.

The new complexity ratings also will determine the amount of training and experience that state project managers must have before leading IT initiatives.

Under the new rating system, California's biggest and most complicated projects are designated "high criticality" and carry monthly reporting demands, as well as the highest skill requirements for project managers. Examples include California's effort to build a new statewide human resources system -- known as the 21st Century Project -- and a $200 million effort to upgrade technology for the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The new project management policies take effect immediately, and the first reports are due in May. The CIOs office expected to launch the project dashboard in mid-May, Farley said.