The United States' New CIO: Metrics that Matter

empty-process President Obama today announced the selection of Mr. Vivek Kundra to be the nation's Chief Information Officer. Back in January of 2009, I had the honor of touring Vivek Kundra's operation while he was the Chief Technology Officer for Washington, D.C.  Several things struck me about the arrangements - a small cubicle farm in the center of the room, with interactive screens on the walls depicting various real-time data about technology projects.  In the corner office, a briefing room where managers, stakeholders, and contractors would gather to determine the fate of poorly performing projects.  The cubicle farm contained his "market" (technology) analysts, who constantly monitored the health of the technology projects under the purview of the CTO office.

This itself was impressive, but what struck me most was his definition of "poorly performing."

When he arrived in the position, he was handed thick paper reports that indicated the progress for each project against classic PMBOK metrics.  These are the lifeblood for information technology system integrators, based on a deep belief that adhering to efficient and learned processes will result in the best client value.  Systems engineering steps are carefully detailed and documented, and Mr. Kundra was invited to review these paper volumes as the tool for overseeing a multi-million dollar IT portfolio.

I need to be careful here, lest I appear  dubious concerning the value offered by the Software Engineering Institute, Project Management Institute, etc.  Not withstanding these noble and enduring "best practice" endeavors, Mr. Kundra made a critical decision that, in my opinion, made all the difference.  Rather than tracking his contractors' fealty to accepted practice, he developed metrics that reflected client value.  These included high-level schedule metrics, as would be expected, but also such things as micro-polling to determine stakeholder 'happiness.'  

I have noticed in some commercial firms the tendency to believe adhering to "industry practices" is akin to "delivering value."  Often, I would see projects that made the internal process group happy - but which were failures in the client's eyes.  Alternatively, some of the projects that were highly rated by the client were often those that failed to have a completed checklist of some sort - a failure that would earn it high-level negative attention.  Project managers were left wondering why they spent hours documenting processes that were not related to client value or happiness.  


Kundra's D.C. team established a manageable set of tracking metrics and displayed them on the interactive screens.  At any given time, you could see how various projects were faring - and drill down to the data elements that provided the "score."  In addition, his staff developed RSS feeds regarding online content/news relevant to these projects, and this became Mr. Kundra's morning newspaper.

With a focus on client value, and an awareness of various perspectives, Mr. Kundra was able to increase visibility and improve management of an elusive concept in the world of IT:  solutions that work.  He did this, I am convinced, by throwing the book away.  By not allowing his office to get distracted tracking processes, but instead focusing on outcome metrics - metrics that matter.