Having a structured project management approach helps legitimize your process, win stakeholder approval, and make things happen on time and on budget.
GOVERNMENT PROJECTS tend to have a lot of stakeholders—all with their own opinions. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing, says Bill Limond, interim CIO for the city of London, England.
“It's just the due process you've got to go through,” he says. “And while it adds time to the process, it gives us many different insights into our project plans that can be useful and help us reduce risks.”
Of course, it also helps to go in with a clear plan. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Limond has worked on tech projects for some of the biggest names in the U.K. public and private sectors, from BP and British Telecom to the London Underground. Yet there always seems to be a gap: “Nearly everything associated with IT projects involves business change, but it rarely comes up in the project plan,” he says.
Describe the city's approach to project management.
Over the past few years we've become more formal in our project management methodology and started using an approach that isn't too process-heavy. We centralized the information systems resources so we can deploy them more efficiently, and we created formal stages for project review and rationalization to give us better oversight of how we're using our resources.
In addition to a strategic board that oversees the entire department, we created a project board to oversee every project involving IT or information systems. It meets every two weeks and reviews project plans being put forward and the status of all ongoing projects. All project sponsors must present their business case to the project board to win approval.
Did the economic crisis drive these changes?
We don't have unlimited resources to marshal for every IT initiative we want to deliver, and the economic climate put a lot more cost pressures on us. We needed more rigor and a greater focus on delivery to accommodate those pressures. Having a structured methodology and governance process helps us prioritize projects and manage resources more effectively.
How do stakeholders affect project decision-making?
The number-one thing you have to think about with regard to stakeholder management in a government institution is how it will impact the timeline. We have a variety of stakeholders: political groups, financial groups, citizens, government institutions and internal stakeholders. And each one can have a different point of view.
Many of our project plans have to be reviewed by three or more committees, and that can add two to three months to the review process—more if it's a high-exposure project. We take that additional review into account when we build our plans and set our delivery dates.
How does that additional review affect your ability to manage projects?
Committee reviews and this level of stakeholder involvement is a distinct feature of managing projects within local government versus other types of organizations.
For example, we have a strong strategic drive right now to support collaboration and content-management projects, including a redesign of the website. This is a high-profile project that has received a lot of scrutiny from stakeholders. They've given us suggestions that have allowed us to tighten our workflow and add more rigor to deliverables—and the project plan is better for it. PM