The Department of Defense and private sector have reaped the
benefits of standardizing project management tools and techniques
for many years. Improvements in the way projects are
estimated, scheduled, monitored, and completed have dramatically
improved organizational efficiency and effectiveness.Large sums
of taxpayer money are invested in complex projects, so federal,
local government agencies have begun to take a keen interest in
standard project management practices.When these practices
are not institutionalized, inconsistencies and variations in
and staff knowledge, skill, and experience can lead to mismanaged,
overbudget, and, ultimately, failed projects.
Instituting new rigor and formality in project management is rarely
associated with improved morale and job satisfaction. In reality,
a comprehensive project improvement initiative results in multiple
benefitsfrom improved communications and less risk to better
value for the dollar spentespecially when an organization can
integrate project management principles and practices across the
entire enterprise.The Los Angeles County Department of Mental
Health (DMH),which serves about 10 million residents
in California, is the largest mental health system in the United
States. It has faced a tremendous increase in demand
and workload over the last few years due to programgrowth
following the passage of the Mental Health Services Act.
This growth prompted the department to embark on an
integrated, strategic approach to maturing its information
technology (IT) project management capabilities,which
now serves as a model for other LosAngeles County departments
Speaking the Same Language
When managers look to improve their project management
team, too often, they simply look at the skills and
experience of individual project managers without much
consideration for the extended team members involvement
in developing a projects charter,work plan, or acquisition
strategy.They attempt to close skill and knowledge
gaps by sending individual project managers to
training delivered by various sources that advocate a variety
of methods, tools, and techniques. Inconsistent or isolated
training events usually fail in the end because a project
management team is only as strong as its weakest link.
A new trend in projectmanagement training takes into
account the entire project responsibility life cycle (Figure 1),
including team members from the business analysis and
acquisition communities.This approach recognizes that
business analysts,project managers, and contract managers
(procurement) work on a project continuously, yet theyare engaged
in various capacities and at various intensities
during the course of a project.Along with the customer
(the end user,who has a stake in the ultimate success
of the project), the project team needs to have an
understanding of how their roles and responsibilities overlap
and fit into the larger picture.
New integrated training techniques and programs focus
on blending skills across the project team. Integrated
approaches ensure adequate multidisciplinary training
to perform consistent and effective project execution. IT
project managers, for example, understand their part of
the project management life cycle and the details of IT.
However, the transition from gathering requirements to
setting up the actual project team and developing the project
plan often doesnt happen smoothly. Business owners
often communicate their wants and needs from their
perspective without a full understanding of the impact the
project may have on other projects or the enterprise.The
IT project manager usually has a broader perspective of
the organizations infrastructure and the potential impact
for change. In the requirements analysis phase, the project
manager must learn how to ask questions that elicit
the business owners desired project outcomes.
Defining requirements to build a project plan is the
cornerstone of any successful project.Unfortunately,many
project managers dont have the business analysis training
or background to understand how to gather, document,
and validate user requirements. Most important,
many do not know how to define a project around what
is achievable to meet those requirements.Therefore, a comprehensive
project management training initiative should
include a heavy emphasis on the front endbusiness analysis
and defining requirements.
Integrated training should focus on aligning the project
teams work by adopting the following principles.
Create a Synchronized Project
Project managers,business analysts, and contract managers
often work in siloseach handling one piece of the
project management pie.This disjointed approach flies in
the face of how a well-run project should be executed,
adding a new definition to the triple constraint.Each element
of project scope, time, and cost builds upon the other,
and any missteps lead to problems later on.The analyst
must verify the user requirements. The project
manager must build a work plan, set up the project organization,
and define the tasks in as much detail as possible.
From an accurate plan, contract management can create
a solicitation that includes specific milestones taken
from the projects work plan to measure vendor performance
and outcomes.Today, a comprehensive training program
must ensure that the team works in alignment and,
most important, can even perform aspects of each others
Project management training works best when classes
comprise staff members from all three areasbusiness
analysis, project management, and contract management.
Simultaneous training helps teams develop a
common understanding of methods and each others responsibilities
to ensure cohesiveness and collaboration.
Communication within physical and virtual project
teams improves significantly.DMH applied this new trend
in project management training when, in November 2004,
California voters passed Proposition 63, now known as
the Mental Health Services Act.
New Legislation Prompts
The historic Mental Health Services Act levied a 1
percent tax on individuals with personal incomes exceeding
$1 million to be directed to new mental health
programs in the state of California.This millionaire tax,
which was projected to generate nearly $600 million in
fiscal years 200406, affected a number of organizations
throughout the Golden State.But few were as affected as
the Los Angeles County DMH.
In the wake of theMental Health ServicesAct,DMH
found itself suddenly inundated with requests for new IT
projects and services.Dealing with unprecedented demand,
and about a 30 percent increase in workload,DMHs chief
information officer,Dr.Robert Greenless, realized that his
staff needed more formal training and consistent methods
for project success.He was also faced with transforming
his IT enterprise from one with roots in a mainframe world
to one organized around the PC and Internet.
After an extensive search,DMH engaged ESI International
to develop a training roadmap for its IT organization
that would allow the teams to more effectively execute
a series of IT projects, including a new Electronic
Health Record (EHR) system.
We had an increased workload, but had a staffing
shortage of 54 people. So, we had a clear vision of how
effective project management training could be valuableto help us
face each new challenge in a consistent way
without having to reinvent the wheel each time, says
Greenless.He points out that his team didnt share the same
experience, training, and vocabulary in project management
and business analysis.Even specification documents,
for example,would vary on the basis of who wrote them.
We needed a common system, a common set of methods
and a common language.
In concert with Greenless and Sharon Carlson, associate
chief information officer, ESI developed a training
road map for DMH to ensure an integrated training
curriculumnot just disparate courses.DMH required
training content that combined aspects of business analysis
with globally recognized, standard project management
knowledge consistent with the Project Management Institutes
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
An important factor in the selection of ESI was the
final exam administered at the conclusion of each class.
It served as an important measure of learning and challenged
participants to be fully engaged in the learning
process remarks Ms. Carlson.
An added bonus of the program was that staff
members received recognition and documented credentials
when completing the entire curriculum, including
a formal certificate from ESI and ESIs academic partner,
The GeorgeWashington University.
Building a Training Roadmap
Since 2005, three cohorts of DMH employees and
managers from the Chief Information Office Bureau have
followed a consistent,methodical business analysis and project
management training program.According to Carlson,
this was a wise decision.Managers who went through
training were able to more effectively pair employees to
projects that aligned with their new skill sets.
In addition, a number of DMH executives and managers
from non-IT business units completed theManaging
IT Projects course.This helped facilitate and promote a
better understanding of the processes involved in many
of the departments projects.
ESIs courses had to be taken in a specific order and
were designed to build upon each other for maximum effectiveness.
The first set of four courses (Introduction to
BusinessAnalysis,How to Gather and Document User Requirements,
Managing IT Projects, and Process Modeling
Management) purposely focuses on business analysis
and the role of the project manager during the requirements
For example, the Process Modeling Management
course aims to teach team members how to perform the
business analysts role and responsibilities in defining
during the planning phase of a project.By having
both project managers and business analysts attend the
same course, the business analyst can work in concert with
the project manager to ensure that newly implemented
processes enhance the success of a project and increase the
projects ability to meet the organizations business goals.
The project team further focuses on competencies necessary
to perform workflow modeling to ensure processes
can be documented, benchmarked, and measured.
One course,How to Gather and Document User Requirements,
is particularly helpful in providing tools and
techniques to better elicit and manage requirements.Communication
breakdown often happens at the onset of a project
because business analysts and project managers often
lack the training and communications skills to collect the
right information from end users to define requirements.
Before training, our analysts didnt have a common
approach to eliciting useful information from those they
interviewed and often lacked the confidence to take control
and really engage the end users, says Mark Cheng,
Manager/Enterprise Project Management and Planning
Division,noting that frequently,Meetings with end users
would often go around in circles producing very little in
By learning successful facilitation techniques,business
analysts and project managers can effectively help stakeholders
define their needs, form these needs into documented
requirements, motivate group participation,
build consensus,manage conflict, and maintain session focus.
After completing the final three courses, Facilitation
Techniques for Requirements Development, IT Risk
Management, and Scheduling and Cost Control, team
members were awarded a Masters Certificate in Project
Management fromThe GeorgeWashington Universitys
School of Business.
Training Put into Action
Los Angeles Countys DMH quickly put its training
to the test when it embarked on a series of projects, including
a medical professional credentialing system,
meant to lead to the ultimate goalan EHR system.We
took ESIs methodology of examining our as is situation
relative to our to be situation when assessing our EHR
system.We quickly recognized that there was an enormous
gap between what we had in place and what we needed to do in order
to support data integration between
counties and across agencies, says Greenless.
DMH not only provides mental health services to its
clients, but also acts as a mental health plan administrator,
contracting with Medicaid providers to deliver services.
The State of California Department ofMental Health has
a vision to allow the safe and secure sharing of client medical
information across multiple counties in California
no matter where a client is seen, the clinician could access
their record and see the entire medical history.
Seen as one of the first steps in this ambitious EHR
agenda, according to Greenless,the credentialing project
has become a textbook case of good project management.
The project became a priority when DMH decided
it needed to improve, simplify, and better coordinate
its process for validating the licensure and training for
and other licensed professionals, including psychologists,
registered nurses, and other health care
providers in preparation for the EHR system.
We certainly couldnt do the credentialing manually
anymore, said Greenless.We decided to automate
the credentialing and purchase a system that could be integrated
with and feed into the eventual EHR system.
Following an IT projectmanagementmethod reinforced
through ESI training, the assigned team embarked on documenting
requirements and procuring a new credentialing
system.The first step was the project initiation phase,where
the project was officially requested and a business case was
built around the credentialing system (Figure 2).
In the second phase, project planning,DMH analysts
met with five separate business areas that already performed
credentialing and assembled requirements, and then
worked successfully with the project manager to define
one overarching process that could meet everyones needs,
along with developing the work breakdown structure,budget
estimate, and resource plan.
As the project developed, the DMH team moved into
the project control phase,managing processes to make sure
the actual project performance aligned with planned performance.
The project is now moving into project execution,
where the system is implemented and tested.This
will be followed by the project closeout phase.
Our training provided a clear starting point on how
to elicit requirements, then how to staff and build a project
plan and clearly define who does what. Considering
we were severely understaffed at the start of the project,
so far, we have kept it on schedule and within budget,
This is all the more notable since DMHs IT department
is the first one to concede that its project management
success rate had previously been uneven, noting
some false starts and projects that went unfinished.
Training Roadmap Becomes Model
In 2006, DMH prepared a 200708 business automation
plan for the Los Angeles County Chief Information
Office. Greenless points out that the Chief Information
Office noticed how productive it had been,
despite severe staffing shortages, in addressing the challenges
of the Mental Health Services Act.This prompted
the office to look more closely at DMHs training program,
along with other public-sector models across federal,
state, and local government, to create a county-wide, consistent
training road map.
Sanmay Mukhopadhyay, associate chief information
officer, created a Project Management Office advisory
committee with representation from several large LosAngeles
County departments, including DMH.Taking the
best ideas from several programs, the Chief Information
Office selected a series of seven IT project management
courses, concluding with a county-specific IT orientation
class, and established the LosAngeles County IT project
management certificate track (see Figure 3).Training Fosters
The ESI training,by its very nature, is designed around
class exercises and requires collaboration during the
course.By training together, the project teams rely on each
other to get the job done.After training, I can certainly
say that confidence andmorale shot up.When I walk around
the work areas, I frequently see ESI manuals on desks used
as reference. If people are stuck with their project management
or business analysis tasks, they quickly refer to their
manuals or engage their colleagues for help, says Cheng.
DMH currently has no plans to slow its training initiative,
and many of the bureaus planned new hires over
the next year will be taking courses.We now have a formal
process to follow, logical steps to take, and training that
allows our staff to practice what they learn through exercises
that mirror real-world situations.Now,when a project
comes along,no one is scratching their heads and stymied
about how to take the project to the next stage.Training
has obviously eliminated many fears, says Cheng.