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Sustainability: Moving from Common Sense to Common Practice
2016 International Conference
Leesburg, VA - National Conference Center

September 18th - 21st

Utah State Government, Application Development: Increasing the Capacity to do Good Utah Department of Technology Services

John Angus - Utah Department of Technology Services
Mike Hannan - Entrepreneur / TOC

Why was there a need for change?

Due to its position as an IT enterprise service provider, DTS often gets caught in a centralize/decentralize conflict. Constant pressure is felt to leverage economies of scale for consistency and cost factors, while pressure is also felt to decentralize to become more responsive to state agency business needs. Rather than focusing solely on organizational structure, DTS has worked closely with the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) to apply TOC thinking processes to identify core conflicts and related solutions - with the goal of providing the best technology to the state at competitive rates.

What to change?

DTS and GOMB interviewed over a dozen cabinet agencies and compiled a list of undesirable effects of the current IT structure. This list was used to identify a core conflict, along with a goal statement that was vetted and agreed to by customer agencies. Using additional thinking process tools, several injections were identified to break the conflict and provide more responsiveness and business value to agency customers while maintaining the gains made as a result of a centralized IT model. The major change that resulted from this exercise focused on improving project and portfolio management practices, with the desired effect of completing IT projects faster and with more reliability. The majority of the state’s IT development budget is allocated to maintenance and statutory changes (approximately 80 percent). This leaves very little capacity to implement discretionary development projects focused on improving and supporting agency operations.

What to change to?

The specific injection to the conflict is to implement Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) tools and methodologies within DTS. The desired effect of this change is focused on creating additional capacity to complete more discretionary projects (with no added investment), in order to become more responsive to agencies in the area that improves their bottom line, thereby increasing business value.

How to cause the change?
  • Causing the change (transition to CCPM) has been very challenging for the following reasons:
  • Overall skepticism - staff felt another "new” approach to project management won’t add value - different approaches had been tried in the past with no measurable results
  • Overcoming the natural tendency to add safety time into task estimates 
  • Coming to consensus on full kit requirements and consistent project networks
  • Convincing business partners that starting their project earlier will just increase lead times - reducing active projects in WIP
  • Understanding how to effectively manage project buffers
Because of these challenges, the decision was made to "go deep” with one project team to prove the concepts rather than "go wide” with a more enterprise-wide implementation. The overriding reason for scoping a smaller implementation was an effort to ensure the implementation did not fail - which would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover from. Even within the scope of a smaller pilot, the associated tactics were scaled individually to ensure the needed time to implement, learn, and adjust as needed. These tactics focused on the following:
  • Scaling project tasks to the appropriate level of detail
  • Implementing kanban boards to choke and release work
  • Using kanban boards to identify where work is getting stuck
  • Implementing generic project networks
  • Implementing full kit requirements
  • Choking off the release of new projects into WIP
How do you measure, refocus, sustain and grow the change?

With an effort to prove the concepts and principles first, DTS is now in a position to expand and grow the change. The rate of task completions has been tracked using a cumulative flow diagram, which shows a 100 percent improvement since the start of the project. In addition, system measures are in place to track overall project throughput and quality. Adding additional business areas has been through an "opt in” approach—as managers see the positive changes taking place they can choose to participate, which eliminates the "why change” paradigm almost immediately. With a focus on improving the day-to-day work environment for developers (reducing multi-tasking, clear priorities, less stress), the chance that changes will roll back is minimal. In addition, because the underlying business rules are now changing, DTS is in a much better position to select or enhance project management software to support the change.

John Angus - Utah Department of Technology Services John Angus has been working at the State of Utah as a Project Manager and Software Development Manager for ten years. His team of developers, analysts, and designers work with several different agencies on unique projects. He previously worked in Southern Utah as an International Account Manager implementing software solutions in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, and Mexico City. John attended Dixie State College and received his MBA in Technology Management from Westminster College. He spends time with his family enjoying the amazing recreational opportunities in Utah in both the summer and winter months.

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