USDA techie says teamwork keeps projects on track

USDA techie says teamwork keeps projects on track

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

Scott Snover has been at the Agriculture Department for 24 years in various capacities, starting as a civil engineer in the field. His current assignment as national project manager of the Common Computing Environment program has convinced him that team effort is key to any successful project.

'The combined strength of everybody is more effective than that of a single person,' Snover said. If there's anyone qualified to say so, it is Snover.

The CCE project involved getting three agencies'the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and the Natural Resources Conservation Service'to support common telecommunications, automation and administrative applications [GCN, Feb. 19, Page 16].

When the project began in May 1996, each agency had its own chief information officer and an office in every state. That meant handling 50 organizations and about 150 decision-makers at the state and national level to get the program rolling.


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size="2" color="#FF0000">Team effort is vital to a successful project, says Scott Snover, USDA Common Computing Environment project manager.

'Each state office had its own set of challenges and its own budget and staff to manage,' Snover said.

If a computer had to be sent to Montana, then all three representatives of the agencies at the state office had to give permission.

'Only if they all agreed would we proceed,' Snover said. 'It was a case of everybody's in charge, but no one is in charge. You have the responsibility but no authority.'

But when the agencies worked as a team, they reaped dividends. In September 1998, they pooled funds and bought 16,500 desktop systems and 1,200 notebook PCs to replace computers that were not year 2000-ready. In the process, they saved about $5 million.

Working things out

Simply getting the machines was not enough; the agencies had to decide how they would get them installed.

At a meeting in St. Louis in December 1998, more than 200 representatives, including the CIOs, thrashed out a way to deploy the computers.

'At the start, people's posture was, 'Why are we here?' ' said Snover, who played cheerleader at the meeting. By the end of the week, that changed. The information technology staff of each agency got a better understanding of their counterparts in other agencies. And there was greater willingness to work together.

'They were hungry for new technology,' Snover said, adding that the need helped many to overcome their differences.

The program got a boost last May when the USDA CIO was given more control over the funds. The CIO can now intervene to help agencies resolve their differences. In addition, Congress now allocates money directly to the CIO, which has increased coordination among the agencies.

As a manager, Snover said he tries to ensure that everyone involved with CCE understands it and has access to the resources required to get the job done.

'Every project needs a high-level vision,' Snover said. But it's equally important to speak to everyone involved, particularly to users in the trenches and not just the IT and business people, he said.

'Have a simple vision, speak to the entire community, build a team and get everyone involved,' Snover said. 'One person alone usually cannot accomplish great things.'

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