By-the-book planning eases systems readiness tasks

By-the-book planning eases systems readiness tasks

By Richard W. Walker

GCN Staff




Regina Lawrence
When it comes to keeping track of her Interior agency's preparations for year 2000, she literally wrote the book.


Regina Lawrence's workday begins before dawn at her home in rural southern Maryland, near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, a world away from the hurly-burly of Washington.

At 5:30 a.m. she boards a bus bound for the capital. She uses the two-hour ride to catch up on sleep. As the year 2000 project manager for the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining, she needs it. It's the year 2000 home stretch.

Arriving at her office in Interior's south building on Constitution Avenue at about 7 a.m., her first order of business is to check e-mail, which she does frequently throughout the day.

Lawrence is big on e-mail. She doesn't have time to play telephone tag or get caught in lengthy phone conversations.

"We have people all over the country 30 IRM people and 59 Y2K team leaders," she said. "There's no way in the world I can call all those people. No way."

E-mail also lends itself much better to Lawrence's propensity for order and organization.

Special delivery

"As e-mails come in I move them over into folders because I know that if I don't, when I go back to look up something I'm not going to be able to find it," she said. "All the folders are broken down by category contingency plan, Y2K tools, certification, budget and so on."

With just 16 weeks to go before the clock ticks past midnight into the new year, Lawrence's year 2000 responsibilities take precedence over her duties as IRM coordinator. Her task is to make sure that OSM's 16 mission-critical systems and 59 non-mission-critical systems are 2000-ready.

And so far, so good.

"We were the first bureau [at Interior] to complete all of our mission-critical systems. That includes implementation," she said.

Much of OSM's year 2000 success has to do with Lawrence's fastidiousness in overseeing the renovation, testing and certification of all of OSM's information systems.

That approach is embodied in what Lawrence modestly refers to as the book, a spiral notebook that holds her meticulously organized process for tracking the year 2000 progress of OSM's 50 offices around the country.

As she sits in her office on a hot, hazy day, a window air-conditioner droning softly in the background, she talks about the book and its genesis.

"I developed color-coded charts so anything that's not complete is red and anything that's complete is green," she said. "One of the problems you have with the year 2000 is, when you have systems that are falling behind, you don't want to keep riding people."

'So I tried to think of a way that I could present this in a positive way so that when something was due on a certain month I would turn it red. Red says: This system is at risk of not being completed. You don't want to offend everybody, but they don't like seeing the red dots."

Interior's IRM officials were so impressed with Lawrence's color-coded tracking system that they adopted it departmentwide.

Indeed, Interior's efforts have paid off. The agency received an A' in the latest year 2000 report card from Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.).

Vice President Gore was equally impressed by her tracking system. He sent Lawrence a letter of commendation, which hangs on the wall in her office.

Hat trick

Lawrence also likes to find ways to express appreciation to her staff for a job well done. That's important to her. On her desk, for example, sits one of the year 2000 baseball caps she sent out when a phase was completed.

"This was our way of saying, 'Hey, thanks. We know we've been pushing you very hard,'" she said.

Lawrence also has developed a book to track independent verification and validation.

"We have a checklist that everybody has to go through," she said. "We have a signature of the person who did the validation, the system owner, the project manager and all the way up for each one of our mission-critical systems."

Lawrence's focus now is developing a plan for the year 2000 rollover Day 1.

"Dealing with Day 1 is trying to guess at what could happen and trying to be prepared," she said.

The centerpiece of Lawrence's Day 1 plan is what else? another book.

"I sent out a book to all the regional directors so they would know how to put together their Day 1 plans and what areas they want to cover," she said.

Lawrence's Day 1 plan encompasses more than the first day of the new year, Saturday, Jan. 1. It begins on New Year's Eve and runs through Monday, Jan. 3, the first 2000 workday.

"A Day 1 plan consists of what we are going to do Dec. 31 through Jan. 3," she said. "We have to put together a roster of who's going to be working who's going to be where at what time. We have to plan roll calls to let the department know that certain things are completed by certain times. Our first roll call is going to be at 9 o'clock on Dec. 31 when we check the lights and electricity."

Day 1 planning for Lawrence means not only making certain all the systems will be up and running but also fussing with a host of other seemingly trivial but ultimately important details.

"We have to eat," she said. "So we're going to have a cook in the cafeteria. We have to have a place to rest. It will be January. What if it snows and we can't get home? So we have to reserve a hotel room. We might not need it, but we have to reserve it just in case."

Lawrence attributes her ability to deal with the year 2000 situation to her wide-ranging experiences from being a keypunch operator to a systems analyst over her 30-year career in government.

"I've worked on so many systems and in so many areas, so when the year 2000 came up, my background in running computer shops helped me to see what's needed," she said.

Coordination is the key to successfully handling year 2000 date code work, Lawrence said.

"With year 2000, one of the biggest things you have to do is keep everything coordinated," she said. "You have to stay focused. Running a one-person computer shop helped me see all the pieces of the puzzle. It taught me to how organize."

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