Getting The Ball Rolling

By Anna Maria Virzi  |  Posted 2007-08-03 Print this article Print

With the United States Tennis Association's showcase event underway, there's no margin for error. Here's what its CIO has to say about project management methodology.

Getting The Ball Rolling

For ongoing activities, an operational manual helps simplify and speed up preparation work for the US Open.

Take the network on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the tournament site that includes Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium and a grandstand. For the most part, the wired and wireless networks that are live during the US Open are shut down when the tournament wraps up. That's because both Louis Armstrong Stadium and the grandstand are shuttered for the winter; only offices with full-time staff at Arthur Ashe Stadium remain open and retain connectivity.

Work to restore services begins again in late winter, and continue through mid- to late May, says Carlos Lakomy, USTA's director of network management. "We have an operations manual for every I.T. service we deliver. We have an operations manual for the network, desktop service, help desk, operating system and disaster recovery," he explains. "Each is a road map that allows us to follow, step-by-step, where we need to be and what we need to do."

As an added assurance, Lakomy retains Calence, network consultants from Tempe, Ariz., to test and audit the network. "We turn on all of our appliances, switches, routers and access points ... and make sure everything is up," he says.

Michael Vinje, co-founder of Trissential, a Minneapolis-based management consulting and project execution firm, approves of the USTA's strategy to follow a de facto worldwide project management standard and avoid reinventing the wheel.

The "Plan To Win" handbook uses a simplified earned value analysis to determine if a project schedule is on track. Here's how it works: Say a project manager estimates it will take 100 hours of labor to complete a particular project. Yet when 80% of the work is completed, 95% of the hours were used. Earned hours represents 100 hours times 80%; the schedule variance represents planned hours (100) subtracted from earned hours (80) to come up with a schedule variance of -20. The labor variance is then calculated by subtracting actual hours worked (95) from the earned hours (80) for a difference of -15.

On projects where the schedule constraint is the primary focus, Vinje says it may be difficult for an organization to obtain meaningful information by using earned value for tracking costs.

In these instances, Vinje recommends organizations consider using the critical chain technique to evaluate whether a project is on track. That approach, he says, provides mechanisms to allow a "whole system" view of projects; it identifies and protects what's critical from inevitable uncertainty.

"Project managers and teams need to shift their attention from assuring the achievement of task estimates and intermediate milestones to assuring the only date that matters—the final promised due date," he says.

In response, Zonenshine says: "The Plan To Win document is a guideline. We apply to individual projects as appropriate."

For Bonfante, the USTA marks a big change from his previous job where he worked in information technology at Pfizer, a Fortune 100 company. Was there anything from his days at Pfizer that helped him make a transition from a big company to a small yet high-profile organization? "Working in the pharmaceutical industry, which is very decentralized and where you have to be very flexible, helped," he says. But there was little else.

With the USTA, there's " a lot of rolling up your sleeves, and basic blocking and tackling," he says. "The teams that win on Sundays are not the teams with the fancy plays. They are the teams that execute the basic plays well."

At a Glance: U.S. Tennis Association

70 W. Red Oak Lane, White Plains, NY 10604

(914) 696-7000

The national governing body for the sport of tennis; promotes the sport from local communities to the high-profile professional game—the US Open.

Chief Information Officer:
Larry Bonfante

Financials in 2007:
Estimated at $225 million.

Prepare for the US Open, an annual event that attracts 650,000 visitors over two weeks.

Executive Editor
Anna Maria was assistant managing editor Forbes.com. She held the posts of news editor and executive editor at Internet World magazine and was city editor and Washington correspondent for the Connecticut Post, a daily newspaper in Bridgeport. Anna Maria has a B.A. from the University of Rhode Island.

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