HUD takes three-pronged approach to improve IT projects

Wednesday - 12/7/2011, 8:30am EST

Jerry Williams, CIO, HUD

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development repeatedly got dinged over the years by auditors for its lack of project management oversight.

The Government Accountability Office said HUD didn't have adequate internal controls in place to ensure programs met cost, schedule and performance goals.

To overcome this long-time shortcoming, Jerry Williams, HUD's chief information officer, said the agency launched three separate initiatives that together are changing the project management environment for the better.

In April 2011, HUD launched project planning and management lifecycle tool. Also in 2011, HUD began internal IT project management review sessions, using the TechStat model, and included not only program managers, acquisition and finance experts, but auditors a well.

Williams said the third piece is an October Federal Register notice from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan reiterating and expanding the CIO's responsibilities and authorities.

"We laid out an IT management framework that helps the department move from strategy through enterprise architecture to capital planning to budgeting to program/project planning to budget execution and then to performance management on the other end," said Chris Niedermayer, who just retired as the deputy CIO for business and IT transformation at HUD.

Niedermayer said HUD applied this approach to the seven highest priority programs, covering everything from back office services to key mission systems.

"In April 2011, each of the seven projects met every one of its functional requirements," he said. "They delivered exactly what they said within the schedule and within the budget they laid out. We just passed the second milestone and the projects have once again delivered exactly what they had planned to do in that timeframe and budget that was made available."

Niedermayer readily admitted no project is perfect, but all programs stayed well-below the threshold of a project being considered off-track.

Additionally, all seven high priority project teams have been trained in using the project management lifecycle framework.

The second piece to this was the internal TechStat sessions. HUD followed the model developed by the Office of Management and Budget to repair IT projects.

"The TechStats were performed every week on every project for several months until they matured enough that we could let them run a little bit on their own," Niedermayer said. "Now they are conducted typically every two weeks. We look at the risk register, are there new risks? What risks were there? What have you done to mitigate them and close them off the register? And what barriers do you face today, right now, that need to be addressed so that your project doesn't go off schedule, go over budget or impede your ability to deliver what you said you were going to?"

OMB and GAO attend some of the TechStat sessions.

HUD's poor performance caught the attention of Congress. In 2009, lawmakers mandated HUD submit an expenditure plan to modernize its IT environment starting in 2010. GAO found in November 2010 HUD has been making progress to improve oversight.

"Congress was concerned with the amount of transformation money made available we would not spend it as wisely as we could if we didn't have right discipline, transparency and accountability in place," Niedermayer said.

The final piece to this new approach to oversight was minor, but important.

Williams said Donovan's notice changed his role only in a minor way, but what it did do was give him more control over how HUD spends its IT budget.

"It's not about getting additional authority," Williams said. "It's a matter of me having greater control end-to-end over the lifecycle of an IT procurement or IT activities."

Previously, HUD's chief financial officer would have to sign off on all procurements, ensuring it's for the right purpose.

Now Williams will have that allotment authority for all new and ongoing IT projects.

"It creates greater accountability on my part and it squarely places the accountability and authority with the CIO," he said.

Niedermayer added it gives the CIO's office additional authorities.

"We can make sure that the money that we are spending is going solve our largest strategic goals and the performance gaps associated with that," he said. "And the additional authority associated with those dollars brings if nothing else a symbolic importance to our customers that it's important for us to be consistent with our architecture, to plan and manage our projects the way we've laid out our lifecycle."

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