Canadians want smart spending, and to hear about project successes, rather than failures. The “need for speed” on stimulus packages must not result in recklessness or wastefulness.
More than just working faster or harder, this requires developing new thinking, new tools, and new services.
Best practices in project and portfolio management (PPM) can help agencies improve transparency and responsiveness, reduce system redundancy, manage resources and leverage advances in technology to enhance citizen services. Software-based planning and best practices together can help agencies achieve strategic, metrics-based, rather than emotion-based, decision-making.
One reason projects fail is a lack of visibility into long-term project needs – organizations are unable to see six or even two months down the road, resulting in poorly constructed project plans.
Government agencies continue to struggle with finding the best IT solutions to achieve strategic and transparent decision-making and project management. But cases of governments “getting it right” are on the rise.
Prince Edward Island
Project managers with the PEI government faced several challenges to efficient and transparent performance. The Information Technology Shared Services (ITSS) branch of the provincial Treasury has 180 employees in three divisions, supporting 455 applications and 5,000 users. Their challenges included use of multiple project management and time-tracking tools, multiple project management methodologies, yet limited options for reporting to clients, and the lack of both a resource planning tool and a central information source.
Essentially, PEI needed one tool that would allow people within the organization to collaborate, and to conclude projects more efficiently. Lead project managers decided to use Clarity PPM for IT Governance. They started with three pilot projects in mid-2008.
“We didn’t have a one-stop shop, and we had no central repository for information or resource management tools,” said Mark Arsenault, a project leader at the Treasury’s Business Systems/IT Shared Services Division. “Without a solution to those issues, we were not getting true rollout value for our projects. Tracking the true value of the time spent on individual projects and monitoring the allocation of resources was very difficult previously. And we were virtually unable to issue fast, full reports to clients before we tied Clarity PPM into our operations with a renewed focus on best practices.”
All major projects are now managed through this solution. Customized project templates and software objects are configured for optimal performance. Staff across divisions can be easily booked and managed. Resources – both time and operational – are mapped and allocated with the flexibility for real-time, strategic decisions based on a comprehensive view. And the true cost of projects can be accurately tracked, while accounting for time spent on both project and non-project work.
When executives or ministers require a report, on-demand reporting gives project leaders like Arsenault the power to produce it faster and more completely. The branch has achieved a one-stop shop for project management, application management, program and portfolio and on-demand reporting.
“One of the keys to our success with Clarity PPM has been phased implementation,” said Arsenault. “Following the pilot projects, we began implementing the resource management and program portfolio components in the spring of 2009. We’ll be implementing the financial management component in the fall of 2009. By the time the Treasury Board’s new rules on transparency kick in next year, (we) will be in a great position.”
Chicago Department of Public Health
Effective grants management is a challenge shared by all governments. A lifecycle approach is needed to maximize funds at every stage of grant administration – evaluating the best candidates for funding, creating scoring criteria, measuring existing projects, tracking timelines, measuring results, and final completion of grant objectives.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has a huge role in the well-being of Chicagoans, including educating the public and health-care professionals about health matters, providing clinical services, ensuring food safety and preventing environmental health hazards.
Approximately 65 percent of the department’s operating budget comes from grants, and it wanted to manage the process more efficiently. The CDPH needed to reduce the amount of funds unspent at the end of each grant cycle because of project delays. It also wanted to spend the funds more wisely – aligning them with overall organizational goals, rather than funding siloed projects.
Now, starting with the search for opportunities through to project completion or grant renewal, the software helps manage the process as it transitions from grant administration to a working project, from beginning to end. Everyone who touches the grant process can see the project’s progress and performance measures.
“From an organizational perspective, we were a very siloed organization,” explained Carlo Govia, first deputy commissioner and chief financial officer for CDPH. “Until now, the organization couldn’t manage grant processes across the organization, which has created challenges. One, we couldn’t align our demand with what we’re actually doing; and two, we need to spend the grant funds in a timely manner.”
The centralized solution will help CDPH plan for and use grants in a manner that benefits the entire organization. Assessing and planning across the organization also helps the department understand in advance the resources required by each grant commitment, so future holdups are avoided.
The ability to measure performance helps CDPH see early on where it must make adjustments to meet benchmarks and spend funds. The measures also help CDPH assess whether the grants are paying off in terms of fulfilling the department’s mission.
“It allows us to move away from emotional decision-making,” said Govia, “to metrics-based decision-making.”
Time to implement best practices
The December 2008 Report of the Auditor General of Canada noted: “Organizations that use portfolio management practices go beyond making decisions on a project-by-project basis and consider the appropriateness of their portfolio of IT investments as a whole. At the organizational level, governance of IT requires an appropriate management framework to help ensure that all such technology contributes to achieving an organization’s objectives. At the project level, governance focuses on delivering projects that will help organizational units meet their business objectives, at acceptable costs and level of risk.”
The report also noted that technology solutions can help identify milestones to determine whether “a project is straying from its original goals and can prompt management to correct any problems.”
It is time for IT to become a valued partner to government agencies. Software-based automation can help achieve this – with unprecedented transparency, responsibility, improved program management, and compliance, while providing greater cost control and performance.
Jeff Itscovitch is director of solutions, Clarity PPM Division, CA Canada (jeffrey.Itscovitch@ca.com).