Well, a government IT project that hit its schedule. Yesterday, US Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra revealed as he had promised the government's new public IT dashboard showing the current status of more than 800 active government IT system developments costing $50 million of more. The site is clean looking and provides some useful information, although the detail provided is uneven and in some areas confusing.
For instance, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) CIO who has gone on a mission to change the way how VA IT programs are managed, has provided evaluations on all VA programs. The US Department of Defense (DoD) along with many other departments and agencies have not.
In another instance, program milestones are displayed with their cost data but the milestones are not shown in chronological order, making it hard to make sense about how the program has progressed over time.
The cost data graphic is also a bit confusing and not totally in-sync with other information displayed. The graph is labeled as percentage variance from planned cost, but I found some projects where the detailed numbers seem to indicate that the project is under running its costs, but the dashboard is showing that it is overrunning.
If you muck about the site, a couple of things are apparent. First, IT programs try like the dickens to stay within their cost estimates. It is clear that schedules are routinely traded off to stay within project costs.
Unfortunately, the site doesn't show functional capability being delivered (or originally promised), so you can't see how much in terms of program requirements are being traded off to meet both cost and schedule estimates, but it is likely a lot. For this dashboard to be truly useful, it will need to show a baseline functional capability proposed and actually being delivered.
Second, you can also see the games government IT programs play to stay in the green, especially in terms of making sure you don't exceed 10% of your cost estimate which will turn you from a green to a yellow. It is interesting how many programs are right up to that 10% mark but aren't over it.
Third it looks like at first blush that the Department of Transportation CIO is more optimistic about the department's IT projects' potential for success than the raw numbers indicate. A lot of what appear to be red projects are viewed as actually being only yellow. The US Department of Agriculture CIO also seems a bit more optimistic than the raw numbers indicate.
Only the VA CIO seems to ready to take President Ronald Reagan's advice: Trust but verify, and don't be afraid to see what you see.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.