Friday, March 21, 2014

IT Project Staffing for Emerging and Legacy applications

I've been catching up in the past week or on the Oregon Health Exchange ("Covered Oregon") issues.  This apparently started popping off in November 2013.  There was a recent spate of articles on GovTech regarding the oversight.

The Cover Oregon Website Implementation Assessment by First Data contained an interesting nugget in their recommendations regarding IT Project Staffing:

IT Project Staffing - The exchange project was a large, complex IT project. Complex IT projects introduce an innate resource risk that can only be mitigated through careful staff planning. First Data recommends the State reconsider how IT projects are staffed in the State. The exchange project filled many of its staffing needs using temporary positions, which are difficult to fill due to their lack of employment security. Additionally, qualified staff hired into temporary positions are likely to continue to search for alternate permanent state positions. Consequently, the exchange project regularly struggled to sustain the anticipated project team size and skills. As a result, a large number of staff members were acquired through contracts. Where possible, introducing temporary positions or consultant positions to an organization to backfill or support the systems that will be replaced would naturally align staff attrition with the technology and application lifecycles. Reserving the permanent or long-term positions for the ‘go-forward’ technologies will also provide the state with the capability to develop stronger, more cohesive IT support teams. 

The opposite tact is common, historically, of course.  The emerging project is established with temporary positions or consultants.  Existing, permanent staff remain with the legacy application.  This very commonly leads to a brain drain as soon as it becomes clear the emerging project will be the new normal.  Absent extraordinary efforts to retain those experienced staff - pay, working environment, chances for new projects - they will simply start searching for other employment.

First Data's recommendation is the opposite.  Place the temporary positions with the legacy system immediately, where it will naturally tail down.  If the legacy system is needed longer, extending a temporary position is relatively easy, the person in that position may be relieved not to have to start a job search soon.  The experienced staff immediately start adding value to the emerging system based on the familiarity with the organization and working environment.

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