IT Assessment for Project Success
The subpoena shows up at the front desk and the call comes to you to pick it up. That nauseating feeling in your gut is the prelude to a long day… no… a long year. The lawyers want every contract and statement of work, each change order, log, email, document, physical mail, specification, test document, picture, drawing, scratch note, etc. that ever existed on your project. You reflect back on the project and wonder how many times you cut corners in order to get the project done. Well as "done" as it is. After all, the customer never did really accept the final product. Maybe you should have had the project health check performed.
"The government is incapable of running projects. Simply put, their miserably high failure rate proves that government should be out of the project management business." There are plenty of examples of this. We have heard this line, or ones similar to it, time and again and rarely hear how the projects failure reasons support the hypothesis. The reason? The prognosticators purporting this are part of the problem. Coming to that conclusion does not take any superior intellect—just listen to the nightly news. However, to try to get closer to the truth, I candidly and confidentially interviewed a number of government project managers and executives to gather their views. Following is a summary of those conversations.
In order to comply with the Affordable Care Act, the State of Oregon made the decision to build its own Health Insurance Exchange (ORHIX). An online portal to allow applicants was supposed to go live October 1, 2013. As of March 30, 2014 the site was not functional and all ORHIX applications must be processed from paper applications.
"We can fix this project ourselves." I hear that line all the time. And, of course, you can. It will just be a lot slower and more expensive because consultants cheat. Consultants simply have much more flexibility than employees do. At least consultants that put the client first. For instance, they can... Wait, I am getting a little ahead of myself. We need a little context before making that case. Obviously, consultants cannot do everything. It takes a delicate balance of consultants, employees, and contractors to get the optimal performance out of an organization.
Recently, I surveyed a dozen or so students at three Portland area universities. Three-quarters of them replied. An adequate response, since the questions were open-ended, requiring a written answer. The students were all business majors and a majority of them in Management Information Systems (MIS). Although anonymous, I knew the group of northwest students well enough that the optimistic, upbeat tone of the responses were no wonder. The surprise was what was missing.
Months ago, maybe over a year, now, I was blasted for talking about innovation in the context of information technology (IT) projects. The gist of the complaint was that all IT folks think they are building some new groundbreaking, revolutionary application that requires the latest in technology's tools. I agreed with his argument, qualifying that although this seems to be a pervasive theme, IT is a discipline that needs to keep one-foot in the pioneering frontier. Regardless, I had to concede that many innovative initiatives are more about a technician playing with some new toy. Jobs like implementing ERP interfaces to manufacturing execution systems (MES) only sound new. Unfortunately, I must say, "been there done that." Most IT is neither new of innovative. To avoid squandering funds, executives must understand and direct what needs to be innovative and permeate the company's culture with that knowledge. Otherwise, the wasted time and expense will suck a company dry.
"Project management is easy. We have been managing people for hundreds of years. Just take any manager, give them a project, and tell them to get it done." Experienced project managers will accurately predict the end of this story—there is a disproportionate chance this project will fail. Rather than "manager" being the key noun, a leader is required to deliver project value on time and within budget. To distinguish the project manager further—functional managers need only manage subordinates, while successful project managers lead extended project teams. This fundamental difference drastically increases the project manager's scope of the responsibility, since the project team includes an entire flock of stakeholders.
Friday brought news of another company outsourcing part of their IT. The details are sketchy, but it appears that all the COBOL programmers (many counting days until retirement) are going to have their jobs moved half way around the world. Soon after, it sounds like the IT infrastructure and operations will follow. Friends lamented about more jobs going overseas. I had to ask what other options management had. I did not hear any alternatives.
To the dismay of my cohorts and their potential pink slips, I am less concerned about outsourcing the administration of servers, networks, and base applications. For most companies, those are not the systems unique to their mission. These days, those functions are utilities. However, outsourcing customized systems that are at the heart of how a company does its business and distinguishes itself to its customer, is very risky. It may be the only option now; however, it could have been avoided.
Let me be perfectly clear, I hate PMOs. It matters not if you call them project management offices, program management offices, or portfolio management offices, they only spell one thing—poor leadership. Now those of you that know me, have heard this enough times that your eyes are rolling back as you mumble, "Here he goes again. Who set the bait in front of him this time?" However, I have confused people with a couple of PMO articles that might seem contrary.