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CHAPTER V11 Management Considerations When undertaking a task as complicated and wide-ranging as the proposed SSA system, there are many management concerns. This chapter examines the concerns considered to be the most critical to the success of the SSA plan. In the course of the review of the proposed system, the panel has been impressed favorably by the ability of the SSA staff to discuss systematically both the present procedures and the transition to the proposed system. STAFFING THE PROJECT Staffing Is one of the most important considerations facing the SSA. The project manager can make the vital difference between success or failure. The consensus of the panel is that, if it were possible, the project should be manned entirely by the SSA. However, the panel realizes that this is not likely to happen because of the amount of technical expertise required in the proposed system, the salary require- ments of those capable of filling some of the more specialized positions, the length of time required to build up a staff under Civil Service, and other administrative constraints. The panel recommends that the project manager should come from within the SSA, and not be supplied by a vendor. In addition, the relationships among the SSA personnel, contractors, and consultants need to be closely monitored and controlled by the SSA. Early selection of the project manager is essential. The project manager should be available to influence the selection of other key members of the project team. The team must work well together, and one way of assuring this is to involve the project manager in the selection of those with whom he must work closely. This is true whether the candi- dates come from within the SSA or other government agencies or are hired through the Civil Service, or from other sources. The panel is aware that a considerable number of additional project positions will have to be filled. It is essential that, after the new system is in place and a level of staffing necessary to maintain the system is reached, the SSA be able to provide leadership for all parts of the system. To achieve this level of competence within the SSA, whenever a consultant, either from another government agency or from a consulting 58
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59 firm, directs an area or function for development or implementation, the consultant should be understudied by a qualified individual from within the SSA. This will make it easier to ensure consistency in approach over the lifetime of the system and provide on-the-job training for the SSA personnel. User Particication The panel is unanimous in its opinion that the ultimate user per- sonnel in the district offices and the program service centers need to play an active and positive role in the planning and implementation of the future SSA system. A design review group (DRG) comprised of representatives of the district offices, program service centers and SSA headquarters staffs should be established.* The DRG should have the responsibility and the authority to pass on all proposals for implementing of,any function in the future system. The DRG should report to the senior SSA management. Problems and procedures not resolved within the DRG should be referred to the senior SSA management for resolution. The DRG should also be responsible for ascertaining that all SSA functions are included in either the electronic data processing (EDP) system or in the manual procedures supporting the EDP system. The flow of work should be reviewed to ensure that the future system addresses all required functions and that these are performed in the most efficient and economical way possible. The DRG should also have the responsibility for developing a system model for testing. With the user involved on a continuing basis, there will be less chance for surprises when the system is installed. In reviewing the plan, the DRG will be in a position to develop test cases that will help verify both the EDP processing and the manual procedures that support the total system. Present System Upgrading The present system will continue to be used during the design and implementation phases of the new system. The panel suggests that enhancements to the existing system be directed toward the common goal --the future system. The panel also suggests that enhancements to provide operating economies and efficiencies not be put aside while the future system is being planned and implemented. Many of the changes proposed by the district offices and the pro- gram service centers provide an evolutionary way of building a bridge between the old and the new. SSA should continue to modify existing procedures, both EDP and manual, to introduce economies and efficiency in the present processing. For example, the panel urges that the total time required from the initiation of a process to its completion be *The panel notes with approval the establishment of a User Liaison Committee by the SSA in August 1977.
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60 reduced to the extent possible without waiting for the full implemen- tation of the future system. Project Overview _ . . ~ . in;, .. . The size and complexity of the proposed system, and the attendant problems of converting from the existing SSA process, require that management apply sophisticated and effective planning and control procedures over the entire time frame of this project. It is critical that today's SSA system be maintained and pass through a non-disruptive evolution in order to advance and simplify the conversion to the future system. Concurrently with this, and in view of the time span involved, the current system needs to benefit from any opportunities to improve its efficiency as well as to respond to legislated changes or new pro- grams. An effective meshing of such potentially opposing thrusts is a critical management issue. In projects of this magnitude, regardless of the methodology of planning, there is a tendency of the implementors to lose the needed sense of urgency with respect to early milestones because of the apparent long period ahead for implementation. It is essential that the early milestones be met in a timely manner or the time frame planned for the transition to the future system could prove to be insufficient. It is important to stress the need for frequent and regular formal reviews of progress. Such reviews, held no less than quarterly, should give each individual with responsibility for a major portion of the pro- ject an opportunity to discuss the progress and problems with management and to show management that each area of responsibility is on schedule. The panel recommends that the project manager's responsibilities include the maintenance of PERT-type schedules, the details of the review process, and the general administration of the phasing of the many inter- related parts of the total project. The plan for developing the future SSA system may be viewed in four phases: Design Implementation Transition Maintenance and Control Each phase presents unique management challenges. Desian Phase The design phase deals essentially with the conversion of the concepts of the SSA future system into discrete and specific implementa- tion modules. The actual design is usually best accomplished by a small group that is able to collaborate closely and has a broad overall understanding of the objectives of the SSA's future system. However, it is important that the design group not only contain individuals whose experience covers all areas of the program, but that their design
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61 specifications be effectively reviewed and approved by those who operate and maintain the future system. The total design of the system and the integration of all parts of that design should be completed and approved before detailed implementation of the transition phase begins. The design documentation becomes the recipe for the implementation of the system and should be subject to control by a design review group. Such control is needed so that changes can be accommodated and coordinated for consistency with all other aspects of the design. Within the design effort, the criteria should be established to design for flexibility in order that the system can respond to future changes in policy direction, legislation and technology. The design approach should strive for simplicity and modularity so that portions of the project may be easily delegated to various implementation groups and to facilitate the accommodation of change. Another factor worthy of major consideration during the design phase is the smooth integration of the new system design with the existing data base and process without disturbing the flow of services by the SSA. The panel considers that this aspect will influence the design as significantly as the expressed objectives of the SSA's future system. In view of this, the SSA might well consider assigning responsibility for this part of the design to a deputy project manager or similar official. It is important that the design phase be scheduled in a realistic manner. Not only is this necessary to allow sufficient time for redesign, but the implementation schedule of the total project must become the forcing function that causes the termination of the design phase. Without this forcing function, the iterative nature of the design phase could continue far beyond the point of justifiable benefit and bring about cost and schedule overruns. Implementation Phase The implementation phase embraces the development and testing of programs and the conversion of data to fulfill the requirements expressed in the design process. At this point, it should be possible to break the proposed future system into several smaller modules, each to be implemented by a different group of programmers. Such assignment of responsibility, while necessary if the project is to be completed in a timely manner, carries the risk that implementing groups may not rigorously adhere to the design specifications. As significantly more people will now be working on the project than in the design phase, it is important that program standards and conventions be established and enforced rigorously. It is recommended that the original design group serve as a reviewing authority for each implementation group to assure conformity to the design specifications. When each implementating group completes its part of the project, the part will need rigorous testing, both as a free-standing module and as an integrated part of the system. One approach to this phase would be the establishment of a quality assurance function with a
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62 responsibility to test the modules and verify that they meet the design specification and conform to the established standards for documentation and operation. This quality assurance group would also be responsible for the extraction of reasonable test data from the current system files so that the testing environment can be as realistic as possible. Transition Phase The transition phase involves the transfer of the SSA service delivery functions from the current system to those elements of the future system that have completed the design and implementation phases. It is at this point that the SSA's services to its clients are most likely to be disrupted, as failures and deficiencies appear in the newly implemented segments. It is critically important that fall-back procedures be established, so that, in the event of the failure of some portion of the new system, it is possible to return the operation quickly to the old system and continue the service without interruption. For some parts of this phase, it may be necessary and desirable to run completely parallel operations for the current system and the new one. This may entail additional costs in people, equipment, and time. However, in view of the criticality of the services provided by the SSA, the assurance of a non-disruptive conversion warrants such an investment. Equipment that is duplicated to improve system reliability may be useful to help some start-up, real-life training and testing, and other tran- sition problems by being available to operate in parallel with the operating system. Maintenance and Control In systems as large as the SSA's future one, the problems of main- taining and controlling the operational system must be given full recognition, starting with the design phase and continuing throughout the project. The recurring need to make changes to the system in response to legislative or other actions must be planned in an orderly manner. The key to successful adaptation to change is to keep the process as simple as possible, build the system in a highly modular fashion, and provide complete and effective documentation for all aspects of the system. In consideration of the large amount of public money involved, and because of the stringent requirements for privacy and security, the panel recommends that the future social security system have the capa- bility to provide detailed auditable records of its usage. The audit trails must provide a record of all data accesses, and the initiator of all data changes, in addition to normal accounting controls. Moreover, the audit and control functions must initially tie into and be consistent with the audit and control functions associated with the current social security process to assure the integrity of the conversion. Because such operations are not normally part of the main thrust of the design, they tend to be forgotten or tacked on after the fact. It is important that recognition of this requirement for audit trails be given prominence
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63 throughout the entire project and form part of the original design specification. The panel notes that the SSA has made audit trails a fixed requirement for the future system. Useful Experience Projects of this magnitude and complexity are difficult to control and manage. Experience has shown that an organization that is normally oriented toward daily operations frequently gets into great difficulty when it undertakes a large, comprehensive project. Such an organization is attuned to the daily needs of operational situations. It is struc- tured to respond to such needs and has developed managers and management styles accordingly. When such an organizational structure is suddenly thrust into a complicated new project, the organization typically fails to see the effort as an engineering development job that must be dealt with quite differently from its accustomed style. Commonly, the internal managers are not properly experienced nor adequately trained for the new tasks. Neither is the organization properly structured for the develop- ment environment. Thus, budget overruns, schedule slippages, technical difficulties, and all manner of problems stem directly from the failure of a line-oriented organization to adapt to a new perspective. However, within the government are several other comparable system development efforts that are underway or have been completed with varying degrees of success. The broad range of expertise acquired by the government in such other ventures should, if possible, be exploited by the SSA. This review did not attempt to define the types of management tools and controls that can be applied to this project. However, current literature on the subject of "Top Down Design,' Structured Programming, PERT, and other scheduling approaches is available in abundance and can provide significant guidance.
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