States manage projects well with best practices, common applications

States manage projects well with best practices, common applications

Dos and don'ts for project managers


  • Understand the political structure of your contractor and that of the government agency for which you work.

  • Understand the political priorities of your state from legislative, gubernatorial and office perspectives.

  • Understand the funding priority your agency has assigned to your project'it will make issues such as resource availability more obvious.

  • Develop an assignment matrix that shows authority, ownership, and where delegation can and cannot occur.

  • Get performance metrics for your team built into project plans.

  • Get to know those who are influentialyou will need them in good times and bad.

  • Confirm all conversations in writing. Verbal conversations are too easy to deny.

  • Know the procurement regulations better than your procurement staff does.

  • Value engineering or other decision-enhancing processes up front; they will save time and money later. This is especially true when determining all your risks.

  • Build nonmonetary rewards into the project for your team, even if they are as simple as having a meeting to cheer about achieving a milestone.

  • Draft plans in plain English; you often will interact with people who are not computer specialists. This is especially important with software projects.


  • Assume you are a priority.

  • Assume next year's funding.

  • Forget the politics.

  • Forget that team members are individuals and need to be communicated with according to their own needs.

  • Forget that any failures are not just problems that affect you. They affect the team, your hierarchy and any other companies or agencies you work with. You need to correct problems and communicate solutions.

  • Assume everyone on the team must be a computer specialist. If it is a large project, you might need to build an interdisciplinary team.

  • State technology officials increasingly are turning to project management tools to make sure IT projects are finished on time and on budget.

    The key to project management, several state CIOs and project management office directors say, is a combination of changing an agency's culture to adopt a common methodology and training staff in project management methods.

    Michigan and Kansas both have used project management to fend off future contract crises. Officials in both states said no IT projects have failed in three years, leaving legislatures content and agencies with operational systems.

    New York and Oregon are not far behind in crafting management techniques that promote successful contracts through project management.

    'We had a couple of major projects that failed and the legislature became very alarmed,' said Kansas chief IT officer Don Heiman. 'The legislature put together legislation on IT governance and mandated IT architecture that set forth project management standards into law.'

    Industry experts

    Heiman, faced with the legislative mandate, convened an IT Executive Council made up of state cabinet secretaries, private-sector CIOs and executives from local governments to provide project standards and planning. He also set up a project management training course for agencies, and hired private-sector experts to give the three-week course.

    Heiman's office and the council closely monitor projects and agencies must follow set procedures if projects fall behind.

    'We bring those projects that are in caution status into a steering committee and do a lot of stuff with quality assurance to make sure the projects get back on track,' Heiman said.

    'If there is further slippage, we have defined points where action plans have to be refiled or projects cut off,' he added.

    Michigan CIO George Boersma's impetus to turn to project management also came from too many failed IT contracts. He developed a common project management methodology for all agencies, including which applications are to be used and a list of best practices, and a fee-for-service project management office.

    'For projects to be successful, you must have good project managers and a methodology that everyone understands,' Boersma said. 'Everyone has their roles and responsibilities, and if you don't have a common understanding of what needs to be done, risks are being added to the projects.'

    New York and Oregon opened their project management offices as an outgrowth of their year 2000 rollover programs.

    New York style

    New York's office provides staff training and a guidebook for agencies to use as a reference. The training pairs mentors with interns and includes one-day practicums and hands-on project experiences.

    'The challenge is to have consistent performance across the board,' said Nancy Mulholland, director of New York's Project Management Office.

    'We have to make sure these standards are imbedded in every contract and [know] what the expectations are for all parties involved,' she said.

    Oregon offers a fee-for-service project management service to its agencies. Training, however, originates from the Administrative Services Department as part of the statewide technology education program.

    'We are trying to get the government to act more like an enterprise,' said Dave Franks, Oregon's Project Manager Office manager.

    'We can identify risks, put all the pieces in place and communicate so there is less risk of failure.'

    Goes with the flow

    Other states, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, also are researching how project management can improve their IT contracting.

    'Project management is an emergent trend,' New York's Mulholland said. 'It comes down to keeping people on track, energized about the project and communicating so risks are mitigated and projects are successful.'


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