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Project management best practices show off IT talent in Miami Beach

An accountability mandate helps an IT director introduce IT project management best practices that make his staff’s value apparent—and transparent.

As the application division manager for the city of Miami Beach, Fla., Bob Biles knows all about oversight. Every move that his 14 developers make for the 30 departments they serve is documented down to the minute, and while some may cringe when they hear the word transparency, he embraces it.

Not that Biles had a choice in the matter: Several officials have been collared for taking bribes for city projects dating back to 2006, with public outcry leading to new project oversight procedures. Still, Biles saw the accountability mandate as an opportunity to introduce project management best practices that would prove just as beneficial to IT as they would to the project steering committees asking questions about how taxpayer dollars were being spent.

Biles’ first move was to the cloud via a project and portfolio management (PPM) tool by Métier Ltd. that he uses to input his developers’ billable project hours and correlate those hours to project buckets based on ITIL v3 project lifecycle phases: service strategy, service design, service transition, service operations and continual service improvement.

Because he categorizes the 30-plus projects his team works on in a given year in these ITIL buckets, Biles is able to compare his teams’ service delivery performance against national averages for IT departments of similar size and project workload. “I pull the numbers from published Gartner or Forrester reports, and every time it justifies that we are in line with, if not above, similar IT departments in terms of project completion,” he said. “Having that kind of data tied back to ITIL, that’s the money.”

But the real “IT bling,” as he calls it, are the graphs and reports that validate how his developers are spending their time.

“I’ve lost six developers over three years, so now when they ask me why some developers only have 100 billable hours (out of  1,500 annual hours worked on average—with many of the developers working more than that) to spend on strategic projects, the graphs break down why that is happening,” Biles said. “Because [steering committees] have the data in front of them, showing how much time we spend on operational projects, they’re more comfortable letting me contract a project out or replace systems that we are taking too much of our time maintaining, so we can spend more time on strategic projects.”

Biles saw accountability as an opportunity to introduce project management best practices that would prove just as beneficial to IT as they would to the project steering committees asking dollars were being spent.

For the IT steering committee, Biles’ project categorization method helps members connect the number of projects each department wants completed in the coming year to the hours Biles’ staff has available for the year, and in which category. “They look at the strategic project list and new development and the ROI on those projects, then price them out until they burn through the number of hours my staff has for those projects types for the year,” he said. “It removes a lot of the guesswork.”

The projects change size and scope as quickly as the government in residence comes and goes. “We are somewhat at the whim of what the current government thinks is important, but the next government will come in with entirely new ideas, so we are always working on new projects,” Biles said. These projects range from a mobile app that city visitors and residents can use to find open parking spaces in city garages—that conveniently routes them past local businesses—to multi-year projects for applications that display city spending on a public-facing website.

Project management best practices start with cultural change

Short-term application projects also pop up, such as an app that will warn at-risk residents during the April flood season that they live in a flood zone. This initial three-week project is stretching into months as more departments get wind of it and want to add features, such as the ability to find free parking for resident cars in the flood zone. Then, somebody thought of adding a device that scans licenses to automatically lift the garage gate for these residents.

The application isn’t just a friendly public service, but one that will take some of the pressure off of city workers as they work to fix drainage problems in these areas. Other apps under development will alleviate processing costs, including one that allows residents to pay their city taxes online.

A homegrown change management system records every aspect of these short- and long-term projects, from the initial and ongoing meetings, all of which are recorded and converted into MP3s, to edits made to project deadlines or budgets and who approved these changes.

“People used to walk up to us and ask us to make a change. Now they have to make a change in this system and have it approved. We no longer have situations where someone says they approved or didn’t approve a project or a budget because it’s documented now. Some people hate it, but to be successful, we need transparency,” Biles said.

Moving to a culture of transparency can lead to departures—although Biles didn’t experience any due to the new project management procedures, but rather budgets cuts. That was not the case for the New York Stock Exchange Euronext’s IT department when Robert Kerner, senior vice president and chief digital officer, introduced a project transparency program as part of a move from waterfall to an Agile project development methodology.

About 100 people left once metrics were put in place to track team members’ day-to-day progress and display them publicly. “For a lot of people, that kind of transparency is too much, so they leave,” Kerner said. “But I told the business, if they want to look at a line of code, they're welcome to it. They can look at any level of detail. I have nothing to hide.”

For those that chose to embrace the cultural change, Kerner found them to be the “superstars.”

“Only the really best people decide to stay and work in that environment because they love transparency. They want to show off what they can do,” Kerner said.

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