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Toolkit for Federal Information Technology Project Managers

Brian H. Price and David W. Vera

Templates integrate diverse requirements, letting project managers customize activities and service level agreements to fit the agency's goals. The result is an IT project that gets the right support at the right time.


any agencies continue to feel the squeeze of shrinking information technology (IT) budgets and expanding regulation and oversight. This perfect storm makes it tough going for federal IT project managers, as unforeseen or unknown requirements steer the project far off course. Only a handful of the more experienced and resourceful are able to successfully navigate their projects through such unpredictable conditions. Driving the storm is the increasing emphasis on the federal Information Technology Investment Management and the Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) guidelines, which seek to achieve high-value outcomes at acceptable costs. Federal agencies have had to embed principles of system life-cycle and capital planning guidelines into their project management process to satisfy governmental oversight requirements. As the sidebar "New Requirements, New Demands" on p. 28 describes, this has meant a surge of monitoring and reporting demands on proj-

ect managers who are still expected to complete their projects on time and within budget and scope. One forward-looking agency decided to take steps to organize the delivery of all available technical support to its project managers. The agency's chief information officer asked Noblis to help the agency align requirements and streamline reporting obligations. After reviewing and analyzing existing artifacts that documented the project management and systems development requirements, Noblis developed a process toolkit for IT project managers. The toolkit begins with a flowchart that assigns responsibilities or support for specific activities to an agency stakeholder group. The flowchart, available for each CPIC phase, integrates the CPIC life cycle, with its project management focus, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC), with its systems engineering focus. The toolkit offers project managers four important aids: · a visual representation of an integrated CPIC and SDLC process; · a way to customize and sequence all activities and reporting obligations; · a process and template for creating service level agreements (SLAs) to obtain critical IT support services; and · a means of aligning IT investment management to the agency's goals. Together, these aids provide project managers with much greater insight into what is required of their projects and better equip them to meet these demands consistently and in a timely manner. Subsequent feedback from the project manager and support service providers resoundingly validated the approach taken and the products delivered.

Inside Track

· The toolkit captures the idea that both business and technical development concerns belong in a unified framework so that one does not outpace or neglect the other. · The two tailorable templates are based on a process that integrates the systems development life cycle into each phase of the Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) guidelines. · For each CPIC phase, a diagram identifies critical interactions and checkpoints where IT support services will be needed, using colors to key to five service groups. · The Gantt chart template duplicates the colors in the diagram's work breakdown structure, making it easy for project managers to be specific and timely in negotiating support services.



What motivated tool development?

The impetus for the toolkit came from the need to standardize, communicate, and execute agency project management and software development requirements consistently across projects. Complicating matters are the fundamental differences between the two sets of guidelines that projects must observe. CPIC is a decision-making process for ensuring that IT investments integrate strategic planning, budgeting, procurement, and IT management to support agency missions and business needs (as stipulated in Office of Management and Budget [OMB] Circular No. A-11, 2004). The SDLC, on the other hand, is a technical framework within which agencies conceptualize, design, develop, test, and implement IT systems. In a broad sense CPIC is more business oriented, while SDLC is more technical. Noblis predicated the toolkit on the idea that both concerns belong in a unified framework so that one does not outpace or neglect the other. Most agencies have not yet figured out how to integrate these activities into a unified framework for project managers to follow, nor have they laid out a clear path for project managers to obtain help from internal experts in specialized topics. The toolkit seeks to remedy this. The need for specialized support is of particular concern to agencies that have no established program management office (PMO). Most federal agencies provide IT support service organizations staffed by skilled support specialists in each relevant subject area, but coordinating the support can be challenging. Some agencies have invested heavily in establishing a PMO to maintain artifacts, assist in negotiations, and help ensure that project support is directly available to IT project managers when they need it. However, when the investment capital to establish a formalized PMO structure is limited, agencies have little recourse. This was exactly the situation that prompted the agency to ask for help. It had no mature PMO and faced conflicting or missing guidance documentation, overwhelmed support service organizations, and geographically dispersed project and support service teams. When a project team did receive support, it came only through the IT project manager's enterprising efforts. By making a relatively minimal investment in CPIC and SDLC integration, process reconciliation and standardization, and documented support service offerings, the agency and Noblis were able to create a strong foundation for the subsequent work of developing additional tools.

· tools that support these processes; and · thoroughly trained staff. From these components, Noblis identified the toolkit's three main tools: an integrated CPIC-SDLC process, a Gantt chart template, and an SLA template. The first component became the basis for building the other two. That is, before it could build the templates, Noblis had to work with the agency to craft an integrated CPIC and SDLC development process. Because the mapping between CPIC and SDLC requirements is not a simple one to one, Noblis decided to map the SDLC phases within each CPIC phase and create a separate integrated diagram--or phase diagram--for each CPIC phase. Figure 1 shows a high-level CPIC-SDLC mapping, as well as the project management activities that continue throughout the project's life. Both templates are informed by the CPIC-SDLC integration and are fully tailorable.



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Figure 1. High-level mapping of the Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) guidelines (blue) to phases in the software development life cycle (yellow). The mapping is not a simple one to one. Multiple systems development life cycle (SDLC) phases map to the CPIC's control phase, for example. Functions in the IT project manager's toolkit serve both elements, taking this complex mapping into account.

Elements of an integrated toolkit

Noblis began creating the toolkit by identifying three components that constitute a successful IT program: · repeatable, reliable processes that comply with all government standards, mandates and directives;

The agency sponsoring the pilot toolkit application wanted to focus on the control phase of the CPIC life cycle in part because it is the most active and arduous phase, but also one of the agency's major IT investments was already at risk, and it needed tools immediately to reduce that risk. For these reasons, Noblis piloted the IT toolkit for the control phase only. To create the Gantt chart template, Noblis used the integrated phase mapping to examine in detail the sequence in which a project moves through the CPIC life cycle and what it must do to





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meet all the requirements along the way. Consequently, project managers can be certain that the Gantt charts they produce using the template map to the SDLC and CPIC process requirements. Finally, the SLA template, which is based on support service offerings that the Gantt chart identifies, specifies the type, level, and timing of services to be rendered.

vices. These checkpoints provide an opportunity for planning, information exchange, and (in some cases) approval between the project team and IT services. In the control phase, for example, Noblis identified eight such points, including "Conduct Preliminary Design Review" and "Conduct Test Readiness Review." Such gateways are logical points for senior management to scrutinize the project.

Integrated phase diagram

Figure 2 shows part of an integrated phase diagram for the control phase of the CPIC life cycle. The control phase includes several SDLC phases, each of which is represented by a horizontal swim-lane in the diagram. (The figure shows only a subset of these SDLC phases.) The diagram places activities conducted and artifacts produced in each SDLC phase in sequence. The text color in the box denotes the activity's owners or those groups that can best provide the necessary support. In this way, the diagram becomes a visual representation of the same activities listed in the Gantt chart template. Project managers can use the diagram as an at-a-glance road map to see the big picture of what an investment requires to move through the CPIC and SDLC phases and to determine what help might be needed when. As the figure shows, critical interactions and checkpoints are highlighted (yellow) as logical points for involving IT support ser-

Gantt chart template

Noblis used a work breakdown structure (WBS) mapping to transfer tasks in the integrated phase diagram to the Gantt chart template. As Figure 2 shows, each box, or task, in the integrated phase diagram includes a WBS code. To create the hierarchy of tasks in the Gantt chart template, Noblis tiered tasks within a single swim-lane in the integrated phase diagram. To create the Gantt chart template, Noblis used Microsoft Project, presenting the WBS for all major tasks that an IT project manager must complete (or ensure completion of) throughout the IT investment life cycle. Work elements in the Gantt chart are assigned to one of five IT support service groups in Table 1, which form the support categories in the SLA template as well. Figure 3 shows a partial Gantt chart template. Once again, the color coding of WBS elements keys to the specific services among the five support service groups, and the phase diagram swim

Figure 2. Partial integrated phase diagram for a segment of the control phase in the CPIC life cycle. Within each diagram is a sequential representation of activities from left to right, top to bottom with inputs, outputs/artifacts, and flows. Flows (directional arrows) show interaction points between project managers and IT support service categories. All documentation and reporting requirements for the project appear as artifacts in the diagram, often as task predecessors or outcomes. Critical interactions and checkpoints are highlighted in yellow. Each box or task contains a number that corresponds to the work breakdown structure so that the tasks can be mapped to a Gantt chart template. The different text colors correspond to one of five groups of IT support services--a color scheme that carries over to the Gantt chart template.



New Requirements, New Demands

Information technology (IT) project management activities have always required a project manager to provide high-level technical and managerial oversight to prevent scope, schedule, and cost overruns. Yet with the loss of countless taxpayer dollars resulting from failed IT projects have come more stringent planning and reporting requirements to mitigate risk of failure. The federal Information Technology Investment Management and the Capital Planning and Investment Control guidelines, for example, demand an in-depth understanding of complex topics like earned value management, IT security, and federal enterprise architecture. In fact, these three topics--along with cost-benefit analyses, risk management, and performance management--are highly scrutinized components of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Exhibit 300 process. For IT, Exhibit 300s are designed to be used as one-stop documents for many IT management issues, such as business cases for investments, IT security reporting, Clinger-Cohen Act implementation, E-Gov Act implementation, Government Paperwork Elimination Act implementation, agency modernization efforts, and overall investment management, according to OMB Circular No. A-11 (2007). The quality and thoroughness of information reported in the OMB Exhibit 300 often determines whether new or continued funding will be approved. Exhibit 300 documentation is therefore a major job in itself, which requires significant architectural, management, financial, technical, and statutory knowledge. Without help from IT support service teams or a formalized program management office, a project manager can be overwhelmed by work that prevents real progress on the job. And while the most experienced project managers know whom to ask for help, it often is a matter of luck whether junior project managers stumble across the help they will need.

Table 1. Information technology support services available to assist project managers.

IT Support Service Groups


Support Level Description

Includes enterprise architecture, business process reengineering, and data management Includes design, alternatives analysis, technology selection, and testing Includes return-on-investment analysis and OMB Exhibit 300 support Includes network support and configuration management Includes planning, evaluation, documentation, and testing

Design and engineering

Investment management


IT security

Service level agreement template

As Figure 5 shows, the SLA template defines services and service performance levels that IT support service groups will provide to the IT project, as well as the reciprocal responsibilities of IT project manager. The SLA is a living document that the project team reviews and updates often as the project moves through the IT investment life cycle. It defines a set of general obligations and duties of the parties to one another. The appendices are particularly important because they define the specific services keyed to the WBS elements in the Gantt chart. Figure 6 shows an excerpt from Appendix A.

lanes (such as analysis) map to WBS code (such as WBS 3.2) in the chart. The mapping makes it much easier for the project manager to review all the elements and their particular service needs and to be specific and timely in negotiating services from internal IT support organizations. Project managers can easily attach notes to tasks and deliverables by double-clicking on the WBS entry to cite, explain, and link to a requirement's source documents. Notes might include a citation to the CPIC guidelines, additional description of the required activity or task, or any other information that may help the project manager. Figure 4, for example, includes notes about the WBS Task 3.2.4 "Conduct Preliminary Design Review" from Figure 3. The flexibility to customize Gantt charts is unique to the template. The Gantt chart template excludes predefined task dependencies and durations, enabling the project manager to add dependencies as needed and avoid the problems that sometimes occur when modifying complex Microsoft Project plans.

Figure 3. Partial Gantt chart template based on the integrated phase diagram in Figure 2. The template, created in Microsoft Project, has the same color-coding of work breakdown structure elements in the integrated phase diagram, and the swim lanes in Figure 2 show up as the second-tier work breakdown structure code. Consequently, project managers can first create a Gantt chart customized to their projects and then see at a glance what elements need what support services when.



OVERVIEW Purpose Summary of Support Services TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT Parties to the Agreement Period of Performance Roles and Responsibilities Assumptions Applicability of Services Services and Deliverables Matrix Performance Measurement and Reporting Exclusions and Limitations Funding and Reimbursements Figure 4. Sample annotation for an element in the Gantt chart template. Project managers can add notes, citations, reference documents, or any other information they deem useful in managing the task. MANAGEMENT OF THIS AGREEMENT Management and Oversight Responsibility Problem Escalation Procedure Primary Contacts Changes to this Agreement SIGNATURES APPENDIX A Support Services To Be Provided Matrix of Investment Management Support Services APPENDIX B Modifications to Agreement Signatures Figure 5. Standard topic list for the service level agreement template. The template lets project managers specify services explicitly with respect to content, timing, and products and link these services to elements in the custom Gantt chart.

Services fall into one of three categories: · Guide. Explain requirements, identify resources, identify helpful contacts, and take other actions to simplify the project manager's job. · Contribute. Take the lead to create significant portions of a required product, finding, request, or submission, such as part of an OMB Exhibit 300. · Create. Take the lead to complete the task requirement, through necessary coordination and approvals.

Figure 6. Excerpt from Appendix A in a sample service level agreement specifying architecture support services to be provided. Project managers can assign each work breakdown structure element a support category (guide, contribute, or create) and specify the desired performance level for that service.



For simplicity, each service category generally includes the less complete category above it. For example, a negotiated support level of "Contribute" will naturally also include "Guidance" support unless the project manager negotiates otherwise. Project managers and support service representatives meet during or soon after the CPIC phase kickoff meeting to hammer the SLAs into final form. Subsequent meetings and updates are performed as needed to ensure that the right expertise is applied to the task at hand. These meetings have proven highly valuable in planning, communications, and team-building. Project managers have expressed delight with the template and the entire meeting and update process. They feel that it provides them with specific technical help when and where they need it to achieve project success.

the appropriate strategic planning, budgeting, procurement, technical expertise, and management guidance to satisfy oversight requirements while meeting specific mission or business needs. With the freedom to chart their own nuanced course within a standardized framework, project managers can enjoy clarity guidance, and support as they navigate their projects into a safe harbor.

Brian H. Price is a manager at Noblis, where his interests include organization development and information management problems in environmental and natural resources and facilities management. He received an MS in management science from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected]


hrough the methods we have described, which one agency has already put in practice, agencies can establish standardized processes to ensure that IT investments integrate

David W. Vera is a lead engineer at Noblis, where his interests include knowledge management and identity discovery and management. He received a BS in decision sciences and management information systems from George Mason University and is currently pursuing an MS in engineering management from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected]

Sigma--In Addition

Program Management Office--more from Noblis authors:

U.S. Highway Crashes in Adverse Road Weather Conditions, L. Goodwin, American Meteorological Society 88th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, La., January 24, 2008. Contact [email protected] org for a copy of this presentation. Timeline, Social Networks, and Causal Analysis of Important Events, A. Bhandari et al., New Learning Technologies 2008 Conference, Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT), Orlando, Fla., Feb. 2008; Strategic Pricing: Walking the Tightrope, S. Krentz and S. Clay, "Healthcare Strategy Alert," Feb. 8, 2008. Incorporating ITS Into the Transportation Planning Process: An Integrated Planning Framework (ITS, M&O, Infrastructure) Executive Guidebook, J. Bunch and D. Roberts, web-only document 118-Part I, published by the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), Feb. 21, 2008; Strategic Planning: Overview, S. Krentz, Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, American Hospital Association, Essentials of Healthcare Strategic Planning, May 1, 2008. Contact [email protected] for a copy of this presentation. Integrated Knowledge Management System (IKMS), G. Bizzigotti et al., 2008 IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security, Boston, Mass., May 12-13, 2008. Contact [email protected] for a copy of this presentation. Efficient Allocation of Simulation Computing Budget to Select One of the Best Designs, N. Hall, Inaugural International Conference of the Engineering Mechanics Institute, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., May 19, 2008. Contact [email protected] for a copy of this presentation. Global Risk Assessment Tools: ITER and RiskIE Databases, A. Rak, 2nd World Congress on Risk, Guadalajara, Mexico, June 2008; Poster%20World%20Congress%20(FINAL).pdf. When Having the Strategic Plan Is Not Enough: Facilitating an Effective Process, C. Clark and A. Iyenger, "Health Leaders Corner Office E-newsletter," June 6, 2008; http://www.healthleadersmedia. com/content/212959/topic/WS_HLM2_LED/When-Having-theStrategic-Plan-Is-Not-Enough-Facilitating-an-Effective-Process.html. National Transportation Operations Coalition: Work Zone Traffic Analysis Strategies, K. Wunderlich and M. Hardy, Webinar for the National Transportation Operations Coalition, July 9, 2008; http://www.




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