Managing projects in an organization that relies on information systems—which most do—can place a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Understanding proper planning, procedure, and contingencies is essential.

Here are two well-publicized cases of information systems processes that illustrate what can go right—or wrong—under the umbrella of IT project management.

 

Success: Department of Defense Military Health System

The threat of chemical and biological weapons became front-and-center concerns after 9/11. The Department of Defense realized it needed a better way to track and update incidents of chemical exposure and general medical records in order to improve emergency health care for its personnel.

Thus began the development of the Defense Occupational and Environmental Health Readiness System – Industrial Hygiene (DOEHRS-IH). This online and offline-accessible application would eliminate the need for paper records, replacing them with new information technologies to improve how fast a patient’s medical information could reach point of care.

Process

To meet the rigorous demands of the decision-makers and complete the project on time and on budget (despite changes in scope), the IT project team used schedule and scope management processes based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge®.

Led by a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®), the team made several key decisions that contributed to success:

  • They saved development time by using elements of the already developed online component to inform the offline component. It also had the added benefit of allowing users to apply many of the same functions across the two versions.
  • Daily meetings between key members of the programming team, Department of Defense, Army, Navy, and Air Force kept everyone up to speed on progress and expectations under control.
  • They used classic change-control methodologies – regulating requests, development, testing, and deployment – to ensure that each task efficiently contributed to the project goal. This helped them maintain agile production within strict budget pressures.
  • The design and programming teams collaborated using version control software that facilitated communication and efficiency throughout the development process.

Result

The DOEHRS-IH is a functioning system that supports a scalable and mobile online and offline integration of more than 1.4 million lines of code and 565 database tables. The transition from paper to digital achieves the objective of saving lives and reducing medical costs.

 

Failure: Denver Airport Automated Baggage System

Described as the most advanced system in the world, the mid-1990s construction of Denver International Airport called for a baggage processing center to integrate and automate baggage handling from all domestic and international airlines and all 3 terminals, something that had never been attempted at such scale.

The end result, which was to include 17 miles of track, 3,500 radio-controlled carts, 14 million feet of wiring, and 100 networked computers, was an undeniable failure of IT project management. The system increased construction costs by $560 million – $1 million per day – and delayed the airport opening by 16 months. It has now been abandoned.

Process

Some defenders of the project maintain that there was political pressure that did not allow for sufficient testing. They also assert that many of the problems resulted from inadequate training of handlers loading baggage onto the carts and the habitual nature of travelers to over-pack their bags. While these are understandable objections, a well-planned project accounts for unknown factors and is able to adjust accordingly.

Inadequate procedures were glaring throughout the first three phases of project management – conception, planning, and launch – and thus the project’s performance and close phases could never be fulfilled.

Conception

  • The integration of all the airlines into one system was an afterthought that the airport’s project management team added to expedite construction. The team was not prepared for all facets of what this part of the project would entail.
  • At the time, existing automated baggage systems in Munich and San Francisco airports carried 100 bags per minute. Denver planned to carry 1,400 per minute. The increased load did not present an economy of scale, but rather an exponential increase in complexity.
  • Underestimating the system’s technological complexity, over-packed bags, and the correct loading was a basic failure in scoping the project.

Planning

  • The failure to delegate authority or seek expert advisors was apparent. The project management team was not prepared to manage both the general construction of the buildings and the baggage system.
  • The leading project manager was known for trying to handle problems on his own, and despite wide criticism, did not listen to outside advice when reviewing the fully built prototype.
  • Change requests were accepted after planning started, resulting in changes in scope that caused significant delays.

Launch

  • Risk management procedures were not followed and electrical systems were insufficient, causing further delays.
  • There were no backups for any of the 100 computers; if one had an error, it would resonate widely through the system.
  • Lack of testing resulted in the unforeseen outcome of a common problem: luggage jams. Bags would be piled up and strewn about without signaling an alert, stopping the track, or triggering an alternate route.

 Performance and Close

  • One airline used the system, but only for outgoing baggage. In 2005, the project was abandoned in favor of a manual system.

 

It’s clear that preparation and education are central to project management success. If the thought of managing a large-scale project gets your PM blood pumping, then consider how best to position yourself to lead PM projects now and in the future.

One way to continue advancing your career is advanced education. A Master’s in Project Management will help you gain the following skills required to successfully manage projects of any size:

  • Effective communication techniques for working with executive decision-makers and IT developers
  • Aptitude in information systems, databases, programming, and networking
  • Ability to integrate technology and business elements for effective decision-making
  • Specialized techniques to plan, produce, and manage complex projects from conception to execution and through to measurement of success

 

The Project Management Institute (PMI®) Global Accreditation Center (GAC) has accredited Capella University’s BS-IT, BS-Business, MS-ISTM, and MBA Project Management specializations, as well as its Combined BS/MS in IT option.