As CIO of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Richard A. Spires oversees 91 projects, each with a budget of at least US$50 million.
And the first thing he did was conduct a review of each one of them.
"It took a while but it was extraordinarily useful," he told the audience at PMI Global Congress 2010 -- North America.
To transform great ideas into great project outcomes, you need great governance. But that only comes with the support of empowered executives who understand their role in keeping projects on schedule, said Mr. Spires.
It also helps to have a strong governance board that draws on the expertise of business, IT, procurement and finance leaders.
"I want them all in the same room, and I want them to buy into this program," Mr. Spires said. "A dynamic of trust and interrelationships are formed that can really help. You need governance to keep things moving, to get decisions made, and this way they're no longer working against each other."
In a bureaucratic setting that sometimes seems designed to slow progress, Mr. Spires likes to keep the entire process open.
"I always tell project managers, I want you transparent," he said. "I want the major risks brought up at the governance sessions so they can be dealt with."
Good governance goes hand-in-hand with good execution -- which means establishing an authoritative project management office with full-time, in-house leadership.
As with many presentations at congress, there was talk about agile.
Mr. Spires said people don't always know what they want when a project launches. So project managers should get projects out fast -- but be ready to shift.
Mr. Spires recommends IT programs incrementally deliver operational capabilities with a first release within the first 18 months after funding. But he also conceded implementing agile requires some attitude adjustment -- especially given that DHS is comprised of 22 separate government agencies.
Sometimes that sets off a "culture clash" between individuals who came up through the traditional large program model and those more comfortable with agile processes.
If executed well, IT can be a transformational agent, Mr. Spires said.
That sounds like pretty good advice whether you're working for a massive government agency or a small startup. Let the transformation begin...