September 15, 2008 By Merrill Douglas
of these projects," said Locatis. Those constituents include elected officials and end-users.
Along with educational initiatives, government IT officials have developed numerous strategies to promote strong project and portfolio management.
Leave Well Enough Alone
In Minnesota, one basic tenet of the portfolio management philosophy is one size doesn't fit all. Some departments are expert at managing their IT projects, said Lally. His office tends to leave them alone. Other departments don't conduct IT projects often enough to develop strong skills or their track records point to a need for supervision. "We have a stronger working relationship with them," he said.
If a project led by a strong team starts to go astray, members probably will notice early and report the problem, Lally said. Other teams need more careful monitoring. "A lot of projects get into trouble, and they don't realize that they're in as deep a trouble because their heads are down working on it, trying very hard to make it successful," he said.
Minnesota's Planning and Portfolio Management Division sets project management standards and ensures department adherence. But it doesn't dictate methodologies or project management tools. "We're trying to act as facilitators, rather than as directors of the process," Lally said.
Along with training resources, the state has several IT project management interest groups, some coordinated via the division and others through individual state agencies. These provide forums where project managers can trade tools and techniques and help one another with specific problems, Lally said.
In the District of Columbia, OCTO borrowed a project management technique from a whole different discipline: financial investment. Kundra organized the district's IT projects into five clusters: economic development, education, public safety, health care and government operations. Each cluster is assigned a manager to monitor projects as though they were stocks in a financial portfolio. "And then we rate those stocks," Kundra said. "Do you buy, sell or hold?"
Using a financial analysis system and enterprise project management software, portfolio managers track their projects daily, keeping tabs on spending and progress against milestones. In regular briefings, they describe how the "stocks" in their clusters are performing. The OCTO also frequently surveys the customers for whom it's developing projects. "Instead of a PE [price to earnings] index, we have a happiness index, to see how happy the customers are," Kundra said.
The scrutiny's aim is to let market forces determine which projects merit further support, which need more time to prove their worth and which should be killed before they waste more money. "You're able to spot negative and positive trends much faster," Kundra said. Based on the metrics, OCTO can take cash away from ineffective project teams and give it to star achievers. "Everyone knows how the game is played, which is based purely on performance. If you don't perform, there are consequences."
To ensure IT projects align with business needs, an IT investment board, composed of business leaders from relevant departments, oversees each cluster. "So it's the business that's really driving and saying these investments make sense or these investments don't make sense," Kundra said. "It's not the technology folks making these decisions in a vacuum."
Although it hasn't adopted the stock market model, Colorado's Office of Information Technology also has organized the people who oversee the state's IT projects into clusters. Called Executive Governance Committees (EGCs), these clusters represent departments with similar interests. The EGCs are: agriculture and natural resources; education; finance; health care and human services; personnel and labor; public safety; and transportation.
Each month, the business and IT leaders who constitute each EGC meet to discuss project statuses, exchange ideas and provide guidance. "We're able to share the strengths of knowledge across multiple departments and share the risk
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