Business needs must drive IT projects

Business needs must drive IT projects

'Juggling eight projects is a handful, a lot of work. But the major positive there is that best practices learned from one project can be implemented in another project,' BLM's Leslie Cone says.

Leslie M. Cone is in charge of eight projects, 28 employees and 30 contractors at the Bureau of Land Management's Land and Resources Projects Office in Denver, but she's not complaining.

She's busy, to be sure, but Cone feels that looking after so many efforts makes her a better manager.

'Juggling eight projects is a handful, a lot of work,' she said. 'But the major positive there is that best practices learned from one project can be implemented in another project.'

For instance, while working on a project after she joined the office in 1997, Cone learned that one of the reasons projects fail is poor data conversion.

'The important thing is to do a good data analysis,' she said. 'Once that is taken care of, then data conversion is not a problem. So we need to document the systems well.'

Since then she has made sure that data analysis is done carefully for every project.

Cone said she also has learned that documenting business rules makes for smoother implementation of a project. She makes sure that people working on a project understand its needs. Program analysts who understand both the business and technology needs of a project are an asset, she said.

Cone identified two keys to successful systems: making sure that the project's business requirements are met and ongoing technical maintenance.

Those two keys provide a framework to develop an automation project. Business needs are the driving force behind a project, so workers on the business side should determine what needs to be automated, 'and the IT people need to decide how it should be done,' she said.

'But lots of times you need translators to make people understand what technology can do for business, a time-consuming process,' she said.

To prevent cost overruns and mission creep, Cone and her team report on a quarterly basis the budget, time frame and progress of the project to the bureau's Information Technology Investment Board.

Each team also reviews the project status every week to identify stumbling blocks.

Being answerable to the board and themselves generally works, Cone said, adding, 'We need to be answerable to someone.'
Many projects, such as the National Integrated Lands System, require extensive coordination with other agencies such as the Forest Service and a consortium of states, counties and industry.

Land records

NILS, which is being implemented in phases and is scheduled for completion in fiscal 2003, will provide land managers a way to collect, maintain and store land records information.

'The coordination is never enough,' Cone said. 'That's always huge. The other challenge is that each agency has its own culture, and just overcoming that can be a huge problem.'

Lack of coordination and communication while working on the same project leads to agencies collecting the same data and software, a major waste of time and money.

'Partnerships need to be extended to all things, not just data collection, but also software development,' Cone said.

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