Our guest blogger today is Chris Niedermayer, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Customer Relationship & Performance Management, HUD’s Office of the Chief Information Officer
“Proper preparation prevents poor project performance”—this twist on a familiar phrase describes the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) approach to TechStat sessions.
The concept of TechStats is gaining momentum as a standard government wide tool to shine light on and turn around underperforming IT projects. The critical details of a project’s health that are generated by a TechStat session reveal project strengths and the potential weaknesses that could lead to catastrophic failure.
No one can argue that this is not a valuable technique. In HUD’s case, we have seven central Transformation Initiatives that we monitor weekly using detailed criteria to prevent any issues that lead to significant underperformance.
Automobile owners have learned over time that regular tune-ups prevent potential problems well before they become costly issues. Our goal at HUD is to evolve the discipline of IT management to that same level—a standard management practice where we routinely employ problem prevention measures to avoid the issues that cause IT projects to perilously underperform.
HUD uses TechStat sessions—modeled after the OMB TechStat methodology—to proactively check under each project’s hood to identify and mitigate risks in concert with the Department’s Information Technology Management (ITM) Framework. Integrating TechStats with our ITM Framework reinforces our efforts to institutionalize rigor, discipline, and maturity into the IT project planning and management life cycle. TechStats are most effective if they are integrated into comprehensive performance management frameworks.
HUD’s TechStat sessions are the expected face-to-face, evidence-based review of critical project health data. An additional benefit from our integrated approach is how they provide a forum for project stakeholders—the senior leaders who represent every functional role across a project’s life cycle—to convene and resolve potential issues before they become front page news material. These stakeholders represent the disciplines of strategic planning, enterprise architecture, capital management, contracting, finance, security and privacy, and risk and performance management in addition to the normal business and IT project management and functional teams. They are a consistent body that has the same interests across all of HUD’s projects so the learning that occurs from reviewing a standard set of project health details is transferred from project to project.
HUD has conducted more than 40 TechStat sessions to bring much needed transparency and accountability to our highest priority IT projects. The reviews are based on a standard set of criteria and are reported in a weekly project status dashboard to reflect project health and identify issues that require immediate attention that is then reconciled monthly with the IT Dashboard. The internal dashboard includes what must be done to remove obstacles, who is accountable for taking the requisite action, and an expected completion date. Reports are maintained on a shared internal site that is accessible by every person who has a stake in the success of the project. This process empowers stakeholders to proactively raise the flag on issues and get the help they need to overcome the challenges that all projects inevitably face.
HUD’s criteria for identifying the health of every project are based on common problems that contribute to cost and schedule variances and the delivery of expected functional capability. Key criteria reviewed weekly include (a snapshot of the ratings and their criteria for scoring below):
- Staffing: naming the individuals who are responsible for performing the work in the work breakdown structure (WBS) is an excellent way of determining if the correct skill sets are supporting a project.
- Project Management Plan: A good plan helps everyone understand if we are on track and when we’re done. Tasks in the plan need to be at a level of detail that brings clarity to the work that has to be performed and how each task relates to others in the plan.
- Risk Register: Maintenance of a comprehensive risk register is indispensable for anticipating problems and taking proactive steps to avoid them.
- Change Management: Transparent management of the changes that almost every project team confronts is required to keep stakeholders informed and dedicated to success.
HUD has a limited number of investments or projects that meet the requirement for reporting on the Federal dashboard. However, our approach could be utilized by organizations of any size to minimize the opportunity for poor project performance. HUD has found that the management overhead needed to use the TechStat model in conjunction with our broader IT management framework is considerably less than what is needed to respond to oversight organizations when one or more major efforts are found to be failing. It also avoids the often painful recovery associated with the perception of inadequate management capacity and the impacts that has to an organization’s reputation.
Integrating the TechStat model with our IT management framework creates a complimentary rather than conflicting oversight mechanism that reuses a single authoritative set of project health data. HUD uses a common ensemble of IT discipline subject matter experts to review project data and apply their growing knowledge of best practices and lessons learned to all of the other projects in HUD’s portfolio. Our results suggest that regular reviews and tune ups averts unwanted problems on the road with a reduced overhead costs.