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GAO: Good project management more critical than funding for IT acquisition success

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Staff knowledge, solid communication and iterative testing are more important to successful IT acquisition than receiving sufficient funding, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. While information technology projects across government differ in budget and purpose, a Nov. 21 GAO report (.pdf) finds well-executed IT acquisitions share several common characteristics.

In an effort to identify best practices the report reviewed seven IT projects that met cost, schedule and performance goals and totaled $5 billion. Report authors interviewed IT staff from programs such as the Census Bureau's $1.05 billion Decennial Response Integration System and Customs and Border Protections' $2 billion Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.  

The most commonly-cited "critical factor" of GAO's nine best practices for IT acquisition is the program manager's continuous engagement with stakeholders, say report authors. Ensuring program staff have appropriate training and expertise and executive-level buy in are also important factors, and were cited by six of the seven projects reviewed by GAO.

The next most important factors for IT project success, according to GAO, are:

  • End users and stakeholders help define requirements, cited in five of seven programs;
  • End users tested functionality prior to formal end user acceptance testing, cited in five of seven programs;
  • Consistent and stable government and contractor staff, cited in four of seven programs;
  • Program staff prioritized requirements, cited in four of seven programs;
  • Program officials regularly communicated with the prime contractor, cited in four of seven programs; and
  • Programs were sufficiently funded, cited in three of the seven programs.

Although these best practices contributed to the success of the projects, GAO warns against treating them as a list of things to fulfill, since "many different factors contribute to successful acquisitions." 

Still, GAO suggests that using these critical success factors will help agencies overcome IT acquisition challenges.

A recent paper published by Rand Corp. examined the most consistently-cited causes of Defense Department programs' cost overruns. Unfounded technical expectations and component quantity or cost changes were the most common root causes for failure, found Rand.

For more:
- see GAO-12-7 (.pdf)

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