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Economic Stimulus: Five Tips for Better Government IT Projects (Opinion)

IT project management strategies for state and local governments.

by / July 15, 2009

Finally some good news - infrastructure dollars are becoming available for technology projects. The only catch is that various watchdogs and boards will monitor our every move. Public expectations have never been higher with unprecedented requirements for transparency, accountability and oversight attached to the stimulus bill. Citizens can even go to to see how we're spending their tax dollars.

Statistics show that the odds are against succeeding. A 2007 study by Dynamic Markets, a research consultancy, found that only one-third of global IT projects live up to initial expectations. Schedule, cost and maintenance overruns are common. Add pressures to spend money quickly and provide "shovel-ready" solutions, and the pessimists are ready to declare defeat before we even assemble our teams. What's a public CIO to do?

The answer, of course: effective project management. As we focus on implementing enterprise architectures that enable the next wave of e-government innovation, we need time-tested principles from the start to be successful. Here are five tips to help navigate the project start-up fog that will soon lift to reveal whether our programs pass that inevitable final exam - public perception.

1. Choose the right projects. From broadband coverage to health IT, the infrastructure opportunities are immense. As you sort through your priorities, answer these questions:

a. Does the project further the strategic or tactical IT plan? (One-off projects may be tempting, but how will they be supported long term.) How does this affect other infrastructure projects?
b. Who's at the decision-making table? Collaboration is key, so think carefully about who's included. What's the project governance? Consider breaking down old boundaries and creating cross-sector or public-private partnerships for projects.
c. Is the decision-making process well documented? Is the scoring or other selection criteria objective? The auditors, citizens and sponsors of the projects not selected will want to understand procedural details. There can be no appearance of favoritism.

2. Put the right team in place. Picking the right project leads may be the hardest task. In addition to a great resumé with project/program management skills and relevant experience, the right leader must understand how to achieve things in a government culture.

Before selecting your project manager, get customer references. Ask questions that go beyond schedule and budget, such as: How many change orders were required and why? Did the team collaborate well with peers, government and industry partners, and other stakeholders? Were you delighted with the result? What would you do differently?

3. Make communication a top priority. Organizational surveys consistently tell us that inquiring minds want to know more project details. Here's how to improve your effectiveness:

a. Circulate a draft communication plan at the start of the project to a wide audience. Listen closely to input and incorporate recommended changes.
b. The plan should include who, what, when, where and how your project team will provide updates. Try delivering updates with project scorecards or dashboards.
c. Once your stakeholders have signed off, follow the plan.

4. Track and report progress. Keep the team outcome focused by defining clear project goals from the outset. Regardless of what technology tools you use to track deliverables, identify meaningful milestones that come every 90 days (or preferably less). Report and celebrate those successes.

5. Consistently manage change. After poor communication, change management is probably your greatest project risk. Project deliverables that seem clear at the beginning often get muddled by new requirements or contingencies that vendors reveal after contracts are signed. These tips can help:

a. Don't rush the statement of work. A good contract is essential.
b. Clearly identify a change-management process. Everyone must know who can authorize changes.
c. Beware of vendor tricks and shenanigans.

Finally: The Project Management Institute offers training, certification for project managers and a Project Management Body of Knowledge to help enable success. Visiting the site is worth the time.


Visit Dan Lohrmann's blog, Lohrmann on Infrastructure.


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Dan Lohrmann Contributing Writer

Building effective virtual government requires new ideas, innovative thinking and hard work. From cybersecurity to cloud computing to mobile devices, Dan discusses what’s hot and what works.

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