VA sets management marching orders
- By Mary Mosquera
- Oct 20, 2004
'Although it's basic project management to have a sense of scope, cost and schedules, we're trying to make sure it happens all the time.'
'VA's Craig Luigart
Consistency is the key to successful management of IT projects, officials at the Veterans Affairs Department believe. Maintaining that consistency will depend on clear standards and well-trained project managers.
And that's exactly what's in store at VA, department chiefs say.
VA has had great success in developing business cases for its IT-related projects. The Office of Management and Budget approved every Exhibit 300 business case that department officials filed for the fiscal 2005 budget. To ensure that such success continues, VA executives have established a set of new management standards and practices that include:
- Best practices and definitions of important concepts
- Higher-level training and certification for project managers
- Common processes for IT project management
- Publishing the standards, including lifecycle steps and milestone reviews for system development and project management, on the Web in a Program Management Guide.
One of the goals of the more detailed and rigorous standards is to find weaknesses in VA projects before they get in trouble.
The initiative focuses on developing a cadre of certified project managers.
'Projects are only as successful as the people are capable of delivering,' said Craig Luigart, the department's associate deputy assistant secretary for policy, plans and programs.
'Although it's basic project management to have a sense of scope, cost and schedules, we're trying to make sure it happens all the time,' he said. This includes defining the processes and responsibilities in all phases of a project.
Improved project management will yield cost savings and better services and products for veterans, said Charles Warner, VA acting director for IT oversight and review. Such improvements include more accurate benefits checks and health data.
'Programs that were run ad hoc show a much higher rate of failure or not meeting requirements,' Luigart said.
VA is using project management software from Primavera Systems Inc. of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., which helps in developing standards for schedules and budgets, configuring workflow, producing charts and reporting progress. The department also uses portfolio management software from ProSight Inc. of Portland, Ore., to help visualize projects. It used the software to build a database of Exhibit 300 information, such as spending sums for project stages and justifications of how projects fit into the budget. Both applications provide forms and templates to help managers lay out information.
The department has also instituted earned-value management, which measures cost and schedule performance against a baseline plan. This results in better internal cost and schedule control and allows more accurate ac-counts of project status.
Training for project managers includes courses on cost and schedule control, quality and risk management, and communications.
VA managers receive three levels of certification. The highest, Level 3, requires three years of project management experience as well as mandated training. Level 3 certification is also available through the Project Management Institute's professional certification program.
The department has 161 Level 3 project managers, and all 57 projects that require filing an Exhibit 300 with OMB have Level 3 managers.
Like blueprints for building a home, proper project management provides a defined map for an IT project. 'You have a much better understanding of what satisfies the requirements at the outset,' Luigart said.
To view VA's Program Management Guide online, go to www.gcn.com and enter 315 in the GCN.com/box.
Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.