Contributed by: Brian Stein, Technology Manager – Applications and Lacey Bowden, Business Systems Analyst, Town of Marana, AZ
The Town of Marana, AZ prides itself on innovation. The technology services department created a project management framework to make sure that the town’s business processes and technology systems are aligned with the town’s strategic plan.
The project framework
The Town of Marana’s entire project framework is displayed in the diagram below. A larger PDF version of this diagram can be downloaded here.
This complex diagram can be divided into five essential steps:
- Requirements gathering
- Process mapping
- Work breakdown
- Database design
- End-user testing
Although the needs of the various business units (departments within the town) can be very dynamic, these five steps are vital components of every project implementation.
The requirements gathering phase takes the most time. Requirements gathering helps identify the role that technology services is likely to play in this project. Some roles that members of the technology services department can take on include project managers, technical advisors or general support staff.
Some questions that should be asked during requirements gathering include:
- Is the purpose of this project to solve a problem or to meet the Town of Marana’s goal of innovation?
- When solving a problem, it is a little bit easier to stay focused on the requirements and needs of the business unit. Solving a problem results in a much more direct conversation and a more cohesive level of communication.
- When striving to meet a goal, it is necessary to be more creative. There is a stronger need for communication and working collectively as a team.
- What information can be entered into the system that is valuable to other members and units throughout the town, including executive management?
- What information does the manager of the particular business unit wish to obtain from this system?
Once the requirements gathering phase is completed, it is time for process mapping. During process mapping, the business analyst works with the business unit to either redesign the current process or map out a brand new process that does not yet exist. Process mapping involves creating a diagram overview of all processes that may be impacted by this project. This diagram provides a visual of all the potentially impacted elements within the business unit we are working with and aids the business analyst in communicating with the project stakeholders about where potential streamlining can take place.
Here is an example of a data flow diagram (DFD), one of the diagrams created during the process mapping phase.
While the focus of process mapping is diagramming all the systems involved in the new project, work breakdown focuses on the actual people involved in this project. During this phase, the business analyst asks the following questions:
- Who is doing what? For example, who will need to test each leg of the process?
- How can this process be measured vs. the existing process?
The primary goal of work breakdown is for the manager of the business unit to get an understanding of the level of effort this project will take for their own managing/budgeting purposes. The business analyst lets the stakeholders know what commitment they must make for the project to succeed.
Once the work has been broken down, the system selected and its database configured, it is time for database design. Basically, it is during this phase of the project framework that the documentation and cataloguing of the entire project takes place. Database diagrams help the technology services department understand how the data is structured, where it is located, and how it is used. These diagrams play a key role when determining the reporting capabilities of the system.
Once the solution has been implemented, and before it is released into wide use, the technology services department has to perform end-user testing on every part of the application, as well as the related business processes. This is to make sure that the entire system operates as designed.
Evolution of the approach to projects
The Town of Marana’s technology services department is always continuing to evolve its business process centered approach to projects by:
- Maintaining the mindset that technology services is a system supporter, not the system’s subject matter expert.
- Growing the department’s ability to gather requirements by analyzing their strategies during real situations.
- Focusing on the town’s needs as much as on the needs of the business unit with which the technology services department is working.
- Integrating whenever possible, but also knowing when to take a step back and verify that a supporting business process is sustainable.
- Making sure the end of the project or task is completed with the best interest of the town’s citizens in mind.