My friend Allan Holmes at NextGov has written a very interesting story on the new US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) CIO Roger Baker's plans to gain control over IT development there, which by the Department's own admission, has been less than stellar. Mr. Baker is moving aggressively to introduce a Program Management Accountability System (PMAS), which will require the VA to deliver systems and applications incrementally instead of using what Mr. Baker calls their previous "big bang" approach .
As the VA press release announcing PMAS states, a program will be required to:
"establish milestones to deliver new functionality to its customers in short increments of at most every six months. Failure to achieve customer acceptance of a delivery by the committed milestone date indicates a problem within the program. Under PMAS, a third missed customer delivery milestone will cause the program to be halted and re-planned. Before the program can restart, substantial changes must be instituted, including a re-evaluation of the need for the program and the program approach, replacement of the program manager, contractors, and a portion of the government staff."
Mr. Baker told Government Executive that something had to be done to reduce risk and increase the stability and predictability of IT development in the VA. Baker said that he had:
"examined more than 280 IT projects and found many were at least 13 months behind schedule, more than half exceeded initial cost estimates and the quality of software had decreased substantially between releases."
Mr. Baker is expecting resistance from his IT shop, but his effort coupled with that of the US CIO Vivek Kundra's IT project transparency dashboard effort will go a long way towards overcoming it, I think. By shining a bright light on VA IT projects, Mr. Baker will hopefully start reversing what has ominously looking like a culture of IT failure.
Perhaps Mr. Kundra will also start thinking about following Mr. Bakers lead for the vast majority of US government IT projects. US state governments should take note of the VA's efforts as well.
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.