Navigating the Evolving Landscape of IT Project Delivery

Navigating the Evolving Landscape of IT Project Delivery


By Jerry Black, Director of the Criterion PM Center of Excellence

The discipline of successfully planning and delivering IT solutions is in a state of evolution today, with popular lifecycle models changing, maturing and, in some cases, converging. A pragmatic, best practices approach to Program Management (PM) is needed to meet customers where they are on their IT transformation journey. This means incorporating heterogeneous lifecycle models (from Waterfall to Agile) and bringing the best of each approach to ensure successful project delivery. A key to success is using a Program Management Framework to provide the structure needed to manage programs and projects, ensuring objectives are met on time, within budget, and to the desired level of quality.

Today’s Project Delivery Challenges

The discipline of successfully planning and delivering IT solutions is changing rapidly today, driven by the need to be more agile, efficient, and secure in a rapidly changing business environment. While kicking off or transitioning complex, fast-moving IT projects can be relatively straightforward due to strategic planning and requirements development, conflicting priorities, technological change, lack of official authorization, insufficient process, and low visibility/accountability frequently act as barriers to successful completion. Program and executive leadership may not have the right information or timely access to the expertise required to successfully support effective decision making, adding to the challenge of keeping projects on track.

Customers want to know, early on, just what their project or program will do, how it will work, what it will look and feel like, what it’s going to cost, and when it will be completed. Large, long-term programs, especially those funded by the taxpayer, must decide what the final capability or product requires, and how to make it happen.  And, as math teachers insist, the team needs to “show their work.” All of that takes systematic planning and documentation. However, this type of upfront planning is costly, as it requires lengthy planning, research, development, test and evaluation, etc., which leads to lengthy delivery cycles all while the mission is still struggling to fill the missing need. Why not break things down into manageable chunks, and deliver excellent, user-friendly results as soon as they’re ready?

This is, of course, exactly what the Agile Manifesto brought to application development. In recent years, various iterations of Agile methodology have been expanded to cover all business processes (the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a good example of this). Let us now look at the implications of these changes on project/program management more specifically.

Bringing A Best Practices Approach

To put it in lifecycle model terminology, while Waterfall provides benefits for project delivery, such as clear project requirements, a structured approach, better documentation, and gate reviews for tighter governance, Agile provides benefits such as faster delivery, improved collaboration, increased flexibility, greater transparency, better quality, reduced risk that what is ultimately delivered doesn’t truly meet mission requirements, and enhanced customer satisfaction.

By adopting and adapting best practices from both methods, we can carefully and intentionally plan work to accommodate for incremental production deliveries on a timely, frequent schedule, e.g., quarterly, monthly, or weekly. Furthermore, we bring the governance and management controls needed for executive leadership confidence. This approach delivers forward momentum to solving mission problems while also allowing for the ability to flexibly adapt to changing technologies, customer requirements, among many other project impacting variables. Finally, customers will have the ability to effectively “show their work” by adding up all the smaller scoped capability deliveries into the larger budgeted program.

Program Management Framework Provides Structure

From helping to run large-scale programs or portfolios to ensuring the successful delivery of IT projects that enable program missions, Criterion’s Program Management Framework adapts to each customer’s needs and provides the team with the structural foundation needed to ensure the successful implementation of the entire range of project types and sizes. It is comprised of processes, methodologies, and templates to help us guide customers towards greater maturity, no matter their starting point.

Our Program Management Framework supports and provides:

  • The foundation for a Program/Project Management Office (PMO) or PMO processes incorporating heterogeneous lifecycle models (from Waterfall to Agile).
  • Greater visibility and accountability of projects implemented across contracts, programs, and agencies.
  • Implementation of standards and best practices to perform activities in the most cost-effective manner.
  • Actionable and real-time information to drive decision-making across portfolios and value streams.
  • Centralized governance control mechanisms to enforce policies, procedures, and transparent communication across the enterprise.
  • Consolidated full traceability of requirements, schedule, and cost management to enable streamlined execution tracking and budget status for all work performed, ensuring we deliver on time and on budget while meeting customer-approved requirements.

In conclusion, adapting to change is vital in today’s rapidly evolving landscape of IT project delivery. The shift towards more agile, efficient, and secure project management practices requires an adaptable best practices approach to program management that brings together the best of both Waterfall and Agile methodologies in a manner consistent with our customer’s policies and procedures. By breaking down projects into manageable chunks and delivering user- and cost-friendly results as soon as they’re ready, project teams can ensure forward momentum towards solving mission problems while also adapting to changing technologies and customer requirements.