NOAA Fisheries moves to no-code project management system

With IT personnel struggling to support projects, the agency wanted to ensure any employee could manage them.
(Getty Images)

The National Marine Fisheries Service implemented a no-code project management system, allowing any employee to be a project manager, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S.

No-code software lets users tailor an application without any programming knowledge, and the agency, better known as NOAA Fisheries, has recently embraced no- and low-code platforms for development projects.

NOAA Fisheries is an approximately 4,000-person agency, with mostly scientists and marine biologists who aren’t used to managing software projects. But that needed to change with IT personnel unable to support all the projects in the pipeline, so the agency settled on Smartsheet’s project management system.

“We wanted to democratize project management, if I may use that term,” Roy Varghese, chief information officer of NOAA Fisheries, told FedScoop. “We wanted to make sure that project management … adhered to schedule, cost and risk but could be done with folks that are not classically trained project managers.”


First NOAA Fisheries established a project management framework with the help of M2 Strategy, creating a prioritization scorecard and resource management template the Project Review Board can refer to when making decisions.

From there the project management system is used to create project dashboards, portfolio, risk and resource dashboards for team and project managers, as well as the CIO.

“We were operating at one point where whoever screamed the loudest got attention; the squeaky wheel gets oil was absolutely true in our organization,” Varghese said. “Now we have a little bit more data.”

Within six months the first set of projects had been added to the no-code platform, beginning with the Foreign National Registration System for approving foreign researcher’s use of NOAA Fisheries facilities. Now all 35 of the agency’s active projects are in the project management system.

Varghese can respond to an email about a task assignment, and the tool will automatically update the project without a technician involved. Some users don’t even realize they’re using Smartsheet because they’re simply emailing, Varghese said.


The project management system has led to about a 40% increase in projects supported and 30% decrease in project management resources spent. More importantly, the platform can provide the status and resource breakdown of any given project at any time, Varghese said.

NOAA Fisheries trained not just the project management team but its entire staff on the project management framework and system beginning in January and ending in March.

Not everyone needs a license to update a task, which is useful because employees were geographically distributed even before coronavirus-related telework. Now software development, infrastructure and program management teams need the system more than ever.

“When we switched over to 100 percent telework it was, to some extent for us, uneventful because we were prepared,” Varghese said. “We had our infrastructure ready.”

Dave Nyczepir

Written by Dave Nyczepir

Dave Nyczepir is a technology reporter for FedScoop. He was previously the news editor for Route Fifty and, before that, the education reporter for The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs, California. He covered the 2012 campaign cycle as the staff writer for Campaigns & Elections magazine and Maryland’s 2012 legislative session as the politics reporter for Capital News Service at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his master’s of journalism.

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