Lose People, Not Projects

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2005-06-09 Email Print this article Print

The anti-terrorism agency wants to make the United States tougher to attack, but first it must solve the problem of chronic turnover among its technology execs.

2. Keep Important Projects Out Front

So projects don't fall into a black hole amid management changes, get into the habit of delivering new functions and features every three to six months.

At Homeland Security, updating the information systems connecting its agencies and their data could make a difference in an emergency. That also has the side benefit of getting a few quick wins that can keep the Congressional funding spigot open. Frequent deliveries of new capabilities allow project managers to constantly review and fix functions where they are falling short.

An example is the department's US-VISIT system, a multiyear effort to track visitors to the U.S. using physical identification, such as fingerprints and photos.

The system initially focused on collecting prints and photos and cross-checking them with Department of State visas starting Jan. 4, 2004. In June 2004, biometric readers were installed at the 50 busiest points of entry. Biometric data on incoming visitors began to be collected overseas in October. The full US-VISIT system was installed at the 50 entry points on Dec. 31, 2004, with the plan to link all entryways by Dec. 31, 2005.

Given the short tenures of federal CIOs ("Public Disservice," March,p. 15), those incremental milestones are key since it's unlikely that executives will see a project from beginning to end, Strickland explains. "Those five-year projects are going the way of the dinosaur," he says.

3. Develop Your People

Ultimately, continuity is a people problem. You lose people and others have to step up to fill the void.

Though Homeland Security has 180,000 employees, the Government Accountability Office said in August 2004 that projects such as putting the department on a single information system are hampered by low technology staffing, retention problems and a lack of technology management experience.

The big question is, how do you keep your bench full?

Cooper says one way is to train your employees to become good project managers so they can fill higher-level positions. At Homeland Security, one initiative was to certify employees with the Project Management Institute. The same effort is being deployed at the American Red Cross, he says.

How Homeland Security fills its bench is critical to whether it can become one cohesive unit.

"The DHS is still young," says Randolph Hite, director of information-technology architecture and systems issues at the GAO. "You want to get to the point where leadership can change and people step up."

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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