The Department of Veterans Affairs oversees the most comprehensive Veterans’ assistance programs in the world. Services are managed by VA’s three administrations: Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). Prior to 2007, each administration maintained its own IT budget and portfolio. Subsequently, this led to the development of stove-piped applications and non-integrated, sub optimized IT solutions. In 2007, Congress created one budget authorization for all VA IT spending and gave VA’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) sole budget authority. With that authority, the VA Office of Information and Technology (OIT) became the federal government’s most empowered IT organization.
Faced with the challenge of servicing more than 22 million veterans and their families, VA leadership recognized the need for internal controls to manage the new IT Appropriation, valued at about $3 billion. In order to obtain a clear view of this newly aggregated IT portfolio, and at the direction of Congress and the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG), VA conducted an internal review of more than 280 IT development projects. Analysis of these projects revealed that VA delivered only 30 percent of IT development projects on time. Further, late delivery, no delivery, or the delivery of inaccurate functionality resulted in millions of dollars being wasted or mismanaged with little or no accountability. The analysis concluded that VA IT was not providing value to taxpayers or Veterans and their families and, thus, neglecting to meet its core mission.
To address this challenge, in June 2009, VA announced a radical change in the way it managed and delivered IT projects. Every IT project would now be required to deliver customer-facing functionality every six months or less. This was a seismic shift away from the prolonged development cycles prior to 2009. The methodology within which IT projects would deliver the customer facing functionality is called the Project Management Accountability System (PMAS). PMAS is VA’s disciplined approach to information technology (IT) development and capability delivery. It establishes a discipline that ensures the customer, IT project team, vendors and all stakeholders engaged in a project are focused on a single compelling mission – achieving an on-time project delivery. PMAS establishes a robust data collecting, reporting and monitoring IT system, mirrored with strictly enforced IT development business rules to produce IT functionality that customers value and can use. PMAS facilitates relationships that ensure customer needs are met, minimizes waste in IT investments and reduces project management and technical risks. Additionally, PMAS rebalances IT requirements with available staffing, focuses IT efforts by funding only projects with adequate resources and enables senior OIT leaders to intervene in projects as soon as problems arise. Integral to PMAS, the PMAS Dashboard provides real-time status of every development project, enabling senior leaders to identify and escalate early-stage issues, mitigate risks and implement solutions in a timely manner.
Within PMAS, project managers are accountable for meeting cost, schedule, and scope goals and senior leaders are accountable for the elimination any obstacles which may be preventing on-time project delivery. PMAS reduces project development risk, institutes monitoring, establishes accountability and creates a reporting discipline. PMAS uses an incremental product build process for IT projects with delivery of new functionality, tested and accepted by the customer, in cycles of six months or less. Projects managed in accordance with PMAS are closely monitored and are subject to review by senior leaders when significant deviations from plan occur.
Daily execution of PMAS is the foundation for VA’s IT capability delivery. PMAS allows senior leaders, customers and program and project managers to be fully cognizant of the work underway and to anticipate risks and issues. PMAS ensures that what project managers say they will deliver is exactly what they deliver to the customer. Through its unique increment delivery process, PMAS can deliver the corresponding IT capability in as little as six months.
In the first year of PMAS execution, VA increased its on-time milestone delivery rate from less than 30% to 89% for all IT project milestones. In FY 2009, VA avoided at least $200 million in cost by stopping 45 under-resourced projects. PMAS enables VA to manage IT program complexities, assess efficiency, and quickly address areas requiring improvement.
In August 2012, Government Computer News (GCN) selected PMAS to receive one of ten Honorable Mention awards for its Outstanding Information Technology Achievement in Government award for 2011. GCN selected this year’s Honorable Mention winners from more than 130 nominations. The award recognizes the degree to which a system improves an agency’s ability to operate more efficiently or serve the public more effectively. In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recognized PMAS as an initiative focused on streamlining or consolidating existing processes in its September 2011 report, entitled “Streamlining Government: Key Practices from Select Efficiency Initiatives Should Be Shared Government wide” (GAO 11-908).
PMAS implementation required a significant cultural change for everyone in the VA’s Office of Information and Technology who managed information technology (IT) capability delivery. PMAS changed the culture of VA IT delivery by forcing accountability and a strict adherence to schedule, which resulted in the incredible success of delivering 89 percent of its promised milestones on time in just its first year. As PMAS has become more rooted within VA’s culture, its success continues. VA has had on-time delivery rates of 89% in FY 10, 89% in FY 11 and is projecting between 84% and 86% for FY 12 (final FY figures will not be available until after this submission was due).
PMAS has continued to positively change the VA culture. In the past, there was no enforcement of deadlines and no commitment to deliver capabilities on time. PMAS requires that all IT projects use the six-month increment for capability delivery. If the project fails to deliver on time, senior leaders halt it and conduct an immediate review. The review’s goal is to get the project back on-track to deliver the capability.
In the past, there was not a strong connection between the customer who requested the capability and the project manager responsible for delivering it. To meet the PMAS six-month increment requirement, the customer and project manager must collaborate closely to define what the project will deliver. The project manager must keep the customer informed during development. The customer is the key participant in user acceptance testing and must sign the form accepting delivery. Giving the customer the final say was a significant cultural change.
PMAS also transformed IT project funding. Before PMAS, an under-performing project could still receive funding. Under PMAS, senior leaders review projects that do not deliver or deliver late. If the senior leaders cannot get the project back on track, they cancel or stop it.
Before PMAS, senior leaders had to rely on a wide variety of paper systems for project data. The PMAS Dashboard now captures and tracks all project data electronically and produces multiple reports. These reports provide senior leaders telling insights into project health and its potential to deliver on time.
PMAS has been a transformational improvement in the ability of VA IT to deliver IT functionality on time.