As part of the effort to upgrade the IT capabilities at Kimble College, the institution initiated a program more than five years ago to dramatically increase the size of the IT department while focusing efforts toward data management and improving administrative functions. As part of the upgrade, Kimble hired a new vice president of information systems, Dan Gray, and gave him wide latitude in identifying problems and initiating projects that would result in improving the IT system campuswide. Dan also was given the final power to determine the development of new projects, which allowed him to field requests from the various college departments, determine which needs were most pressing, and create a portfolio of prioritized projects. Within two years of his arrival at Kimble, Dan was overseeing an IT department of 46 people, divided into four levels: (1) help desk support, (2) junior programmers, (3) senior programmers, and (4) project team leaders. There were only four project team leaders, with the majority of Dan’s staff working either at the entry-level help desk or as junior programmers.
In the past three years, the performance of Dan’s department has been mixed. Although it has been responsible for taking on a number of new projects, its track record for delivery is shaky; for example, well over half of the new projects have run past their budgets and initial schedules, sometimes by more than 100%. Worse, from the college president’s perspective it does not appear that Dan has a clear sense of the status of the projects in his department. At board meetings he routinely gives a rosy picture of his performance, but seems incapable of answering simple questions about project delivery beyond vague declarations that “things are moving along just fine.” In the president’s view, Dan’s departmental track record is not warranting the additional funding he keeps requesting for new equipment and personnel.
You have been called in as an independent consultant to assess the performance of Dan’s department and, in particular, the manner in which it runs and monitors the development of its project portfolio. Your initial assessment has confirmed the college president’s hunch: The ongoing status of projects in the IT department is not clearly understood. Everyone is working hard, but no one can provide clear answers about how the projects being developed are doing. After asking several project leaders about the status of their projects and repeatedly receiving “Oh, fine” as a response, you realize that they are not being evasive; they simply do not know from day to day how their projects are progressing. When you ask them how they determine project status, the general consensus is that unless the project team leaders hear bad news, they assume everything is going fine. Furthermore, it is clear that even if the project leaders wanted to spend more time monitoring their ongoing projects, they are not sure what types of information they should collect to develop better on-time project tracking and control.
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