Project management and quality management repositories

This paper reports the results of work undertaken by the U.S. Census Bureau staff. It has undergone a Census Bureau review more limited in scope than that given to official Census Bureau publications.

Introduction

The Census Bureau is one of the largest statistical agencies in the United States, organized along two principal business components: Survey and Census Program Operations and Administrative Operations. The Program Operations area is responsible for a myriad of censuses and surveys that measure the Nation's demographic and economic profiles. The Administrative Operations area is responsible for providing support services to the survey and census program operations areas and includes human resource management, budget and finance support, information technology support and a variety of other services. Because of the nature of the Census Bureau's mission, most efforts within the agency require inter-divisional teams to accomplish project goals. The need for improving project task organization and communication processes across the Census Bureau led senior management to formulate an initiative for improving project management practices throughout the agency.

This paper, as well as the companion demonstration, outline a set of partnered web-based mechanisms available to the Census Bureau teams to facilitate and share improved practices in project management: The Project Management Repository (PMR) and the Quality Management Repository (QMR). The PMR and QMR were developed in tandem to address the need for easy access to the Census Bureau's Scalable Methodology for Project Management, the Census Bureau's quality standards, guidelines and best practices, as well as storing and sharing project documents across the agency.

As the foundation for the PMR, the Scalable Methodology for Project Management offers guidelines to project managers on those techniques that are appropriate for managing their projects based on the project's characteristics. The construct of the underlying model, based on one developed by Chapman (1997), organizes the methodology around three framing elements: the nine project management knowledge areas as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide); the four phases of a project: Concept, Planning, Implementation and Closeout; and three categories based on the project's size characteristics in each of the nine PMBOK® areas.

Since “Quality” is one of the nine knowledge areas of project management, it was a natural fit to incorporate the Quality Management Repository with the Project Management Repository. The QMR is organized around the workflow processes of the Census Bureau's major business line of taking surveys and censuses, namely: content, planning, design, data collection, data quality/analysis/ evaluation, dissemination, data processing and data products. It also offers another view of quality documents organized by Quality Product: principles/standards/guidelines, best practices, current practices and training. These documents can provide direct support to project managers in developing, tracking and updating their quality management plans as well as other aspects of the Quality PMBOK® area.

The PMR also provides a vehicle for teams to store their project documents. This section of the repository is organized along the organizational lines of the Census Bureau as well as a classification system of typical projects at the Census Bureau. Teams are given password-protected access to store and share their documents but have the option to release those same documents to the general workforce of the Census Bureau. When project documents are released to the general user, there is an easy search mechanism as well as a browse function for finding documents of interest.

During 2000–2001, we developed these websites and deployed them to all Census Bureau headquarters staff in the summer of 2001 using the Census Intranet. This paper will provide a look at the U.S. Census Bureau's PMR/QMR websites and provide some information about how we developed the sites to work together using a portal software package.

Background

Because of the nature of the Census Bureau's mission, most efforts within the agency require interdivisional teams to accomplish project goals. In 1998, the Census Bureau inaugurated a workforce development initiative focused specifically on project management. Students of project management were formed into cohorts for the express purpose of completing the George Washington University curriculum leading to the Master's Certificate in Project Management. This training curriculum has two tracks: Standard Project Management and Information Technology Project Management. By June 2002, some 330 employees had completed the program, while an additional 178 are still working toward the goal of completing in June 2003.

Exhibit 1. Divisions of the PMR's Main Screen

Divisions of the PMR's Main Screen

Training alone does not provide the full support needed for such a large workforce development effort. Recognizing this, the Census Bureau broadened its efforts to assist those building this competency by formulating a number of performance support and knowledge management efforts.

In the summer of 1999 an organizationwide team developed a project management methodology that is by design sensitive to and flexible for the varying types and sizes of projects at the Census Bureau. This methodology provides guidance to project teams on the appropriate tools and techniques based upon the characteristics of the project. Additionally, employees interested in working with their peers on project management issues can work through the Project Management Network or become a member of the Community of Practice for Project Management. Performance support activities span the gamut from networking to team coaching and facilitation, from sharing knowledge about project plans and lessons learned to mentoring. The Census Bureau designed, built and deployed a Project Management Repository (PMR), the focus of this paper, to facilitate the capture and use of explicit project knowledge.

Process

In early 2000, a small team gathered to examine the marketplace for suitable project management repository products. Most of the products available were designed for enterprise-level portfolio management and not specifically for a single project focus. Looking within the agency at other enterprisewide efforts, the team decided to build a repository on the same platform/product as the Corporate Metadata Repository (CMR), which is currently under development. At the same time that this decision was being made, the Associate Director for Methodology and Standards instructed the team to build a Quality Management Repository. A partnership was born.

The Human Resources Division (HRD) in partnership with the Computer Assisted Survey Research Office (CASRO) developed and deployed the Project Management Repository (PMR)/Quality Management Repository (QMR), Web-based portals that facilitate the sharing of information and documentation on project management and quality management efforts throughout the Census Bureau.

Exhibit 2. Divisions of the QMR's Main Screen

Divisions of the QMR's Main Screen

In the fall of 2000, the partnership began with a series of meetings to define the requirements of the PMR/QMR using the JAD (Joint Application Design) technique. Through a series of workshops, the team defined the requirements with input from the Oracle developer. In rapid succession, the developer put together the initial iteration of the sister sites, which the team tested for adherence to requirements.

To further enhance the quality of the sister sites, the team put the first iteration through a round of formal usability testing. Usability testers worked through specific scenarios designed to elicit detailed comments about the site's design. The developer made changes to the sites based on these usability testing results as well as the results of another form of testing that was required, compliance with the American's with Disabilities Act. Both sites were tested for compliance with this Act using commercial software that was approved by the Federal Government and minor changes were made to meet the requirements of that legislation.

After the development was complete, the sister sites were officially released to users in summer 2001. As of the writing of this report, some 260 individual user accounts and 16 team groups have been established in the PMR and the QMR has documents representing quality related work from 11 divisions in five directorates to support its effectiveness and significance in the organization.

Site Tours

As shown in Exhibit 1, the PMR's main screen is divided into three parts: left side, center, and right side.

Those capabilities needed most urgently or having the most immediate utility are on the leftmost portion of the site. These include such things as the templates that support the scalable methodology (mentioned above), a quick link over to the QMR, a “How To” area with tactical tips for project managers and the search function, just to name a few. The search function found here in the PMR is exactly identical to the one on the QMR providing a similar look and feel between the two repositories.

Functionality used less frequently is placed at the rightmost portion of the site. These include links to other sites containing information pertinent to project management such as the training program mentioned above, PMI, e-zines and the like.

The central portion of the real estate contains the primary capabilities offered via “tabs.” The WELCOME tab provides a brief description of the site and is the location of the PMR Team Request Form, an administrative document that allows a team to request partitioned space in the repository for their project documents.

The second tab, MY PROJECTS, provides the vehicle for a user to view project documents associated with the teams of which he or she is a member. This is the protected area of the repository where the capture and exchange of explicit project information takes place at the team level. Access is controlled by the establishment of groups that assign and control privileges to the particular folder containing the team's documents. At the discretion of the team, documents are organized into subfolders. The repository taxonomy mimics the framework of project management as articulated by the PMI. Documents can be tagged with labels from a structured list that contains the nine project management knowledge area labels. Additionally documents can be categorized according to the technique from the Census Bureau methodology used in the document. The folder structure of the repository mirrors the organizational structure of the agency with a subfolder structure organized by project type. It is within this hierarchy that a project team creates its own subfolder structure.

The third tab, PUBLIC FILES, gives anyone with access to the Census Bureau's Intranet the ability to view those project documents that a team has released for general use within the agency. This is the vehicle for promoting the sharing and reuse of project information. It creates the opportunity for teams to get a head start on developing project plans by borrowing from explicit previous project experience.

The fourth tab, SCALABLE METHODOLOGY, contains the project management methodology mentioned in the Background section of this paper. This methodology is structured around the nine project management knowledge areas as defined by the PMI across three levels. The criteria for determining the level of a project are driven by theory and government guidelines. The notion behind the leveling is that smaller, less critical, less expensive projects should be managed with less overhead and effort. The methodology places the responsibility on the shoulders of the project manager for the choice of level for the project under consideration. The choice of level points the project manager to a list of recommended tools and techniques for managing the project. The methodology provides templates, guidance for all recommended techniques, as well as relevant real life Census Bureau examples using these templates.

The set up of the QMR is somewhat simpler than the PMR. As shown in Exhibit 2, the QMR is divided into only two parts: left (one-third) and right (two-thirds).

The leftmost portion of the portal is devoted to quick links for Quality sites on either the Census Bureau's intranet or World Wide Web. The dominant portion of the portal comprises the major functionality afforded in the QMR. The WELCOME tab provides a brief introduction to the site, as in the PMR. Browsing documents is offered in the next two tabs: BROWSE BY PRODUCT and BROWSE BY PROCESS. The by-product tab arranges the documents according to the type of information: a quality principle, a quality standard or guideline, a quality best practice, a current practice, or quality training. The by-process tab organizes the documents according to the workflow processes of the main business function of the agency: planning, conducting and releasing data for a survey or census. Specifically these process areas are content, planning, design, data collection, data quality, analysis and evaluation, dissemination, data processing, and data products. The fourth tab, DOCUMENT SEARCH, provides the same searching capabilities provided in the PMR.

Lessons Learned

The team learned many valuable lessons during the process of building the PMR and QMR. Since it was the team's first experience with portal products, the group had to identify the limits of portal software and what was available from Oracle Portal out-of-the-box. Our first lesson was expensive as we had to custom code far more options than planned for initially in the portals. This experience was echoed by a Gartner expert on portal technology in a “90-10 10-90 rule“ (Phifer, 2001). This rule postulates that the first version of portal introduction can rely heavily on off-the-shelf functionality, but tailoring a portal to an organization's culture and way of doing business moves the effort into greater custom coding.

The team also learned about the importance of upfront planning for the design and architecture of the portals, particularly the logical structure and taxonomy. The impact of changing this underlying framework is great and requires intensive, manual effort to propagate the changes across all repository items. Also related to proper planning was the effect that usability testing had on the sites. Even though the team carefully planned the screen layouts and functionality of the portals, we made major modifications based on user feedback during testing. Problems were identified and changes were made to improve the ease of use of the tabs as well as the search function and additional testing was planned after the one-year assessment will be completed.

Next Steps

For the near term, PMR administrators will continue to bring teams online, and Census Bureau staff will continue to load more documents into both the PMR and QMR. Since the Oracle Portal software is still quite new, there are still opportunities for improvement. As we continue to receive and install upgrades released for Oracle Portal, we will capitalize on new capabilities to improve the usability and functionality of the site and to work toward bringing the users their “portal” for information. We will continue to retest major changes to the site for usability and accessibility as needed, and we will continue to maximize flexibility while minimizing the required systems administration support. After the sites have been in use for approximately one year, we will begin to reassess their usefulness, including an analysis of comments and help issues raised by the users, to determine what enhancements need to be made. Because the PMR and the QMR are only two of the three parts of the QMR/PMR/CMR umbrella, our team will continue to participate in the design and development of the corporate approach for these three sites. By doing so, the team hopes to ensure that the PMR and QMR maintain the consistent look and feel of the existing sites and that users can continue to take advantage of portal technology and the functionality it provides.

References

Chapman, J. R. 1997. Project Management Scalable Methodology Guide. http://www.hyperthot.com/pm_meth.htm (last accessed 3/14/2002).

Phifer, G. 2001, October. Personal communication during Gartner Group site visit to the Census Bureau.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA

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