General Dynamics IT’s Woody Hall: Five steps to successful IT project management

woody-hallRemember back in the day when agencies generated paperwork, stacked pile high, to account for project spending? The accountability was there, but readership was limited. No longer. With the launch of the Federal IT Dashboard, the public now has a quick, convenient view of government projects — your projects. That means one thing for CIOs in government contracting: Now more than ever, it’s essential to manage IT projects effectively. Few know better than Spain “Woody” Hall, Jr., vice president of IT strategy and CIO for General Dynamics Information Technology. With experience on both the federal and private sector sides — Hall served as assistant commissioner and CIO for the U.S. Customs Service before entering the defense industry — Hall has a five-point checklist to keep projects on track. Check it out.

Successful IT project management: Five steps

1.) Reach consensus on project scope. “The requirement is often in the eyes of the beholder,” says Hall. To minimize any discrepancy, Hall suggests consistent, ongoing communication with everyone from top executives to direct project managers well in advance of implementation. At General Dynamics IT, Hall and his team created a CIO advisory council that meets regularly with division GMs, executive staff, and other stakeholders to discuss IT projects. “We discuss the needs and priorities, as well as the status, to make sure everyone is on the same page,” says Hall. From time to time, adds Hall, new requirements arise in those discussions, opening the door to future projects.

2.) Ensure costs align with requirements. “Once you’ve agreed on requirements, you’ve got to make sure there’s shared understanding of cost,” says Hall. “Frequently customers will tell you how much they’ve got to spend and they expect the requirement to fit inside that … that’s just not the way physics works on a complicated system,” he says. Ditto for schedule. “Make sure there is realism around schedule … you can compress a schedule only so far before quality starts to suffer,” says Hall.

3.) Stay disciplined. “People have to be able to expect you to deliver on what you say, and, in my mind, that requires discipline,” says Hall. “If you’re going to deliver a project on time and on budget, you can’t wing it … you can’t have a bunch of cowboys out there doing their favorite thing,” he adds. Discipline flows from putting formal structures in place to initiate, monitor, and evaluate programs. “It can be as simple as having frequent, scheduled meetings,” says Hall, adding, “Don’t get around to it when you’ve got a minute because you’ll never have a minute … make these interactions part of how you do business; set the expectation that you are going to communicate about needs, performance, expectations, and priorities.”

4.) Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If there’s an issue with a project, speak up. “You have to talk about it,” says Hall. “A lot of times, though, everybody tries to be so polite that we don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room,” he says, adding, “In my experience, a lot of times you just have to say it out loud: ‘We think we can have a better result. Here’s how …’”

5.) Keep asking yourself questions. One of the best things a CIO can do, says Hall, is to constantly ask themselves, ‘How can I be more relevant? How can I support the business needs of the organization I’m a part of?’” Those self-reflective questions move a CIO away from the enforcer role to one that’s more collaborative. “It’s tempting to get in an enforcement role … you’re the guy who says whether you can or can’t have a BlackBerry or use some piece of software,” says Hall. “While those things are all important from a fiscal and security perspective, you can still get to the same place if you’re part of an ongoing discussion with leadership and staff about how to cost-effectively and securely meet needs with smart IT solutions,” he says.

Are you a CIO? What helps you keep IT projects on track? Share your comments here.

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