Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.
ARCHIVES

Managing Innovation

In mid-2010, the already frenetic Todd Park was in overdrive. President Obama had just signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the most significant reform of the American health care system since Medicare. It was Park’s job to figure out how government could use technology to make the law’s implementation as smooth and fruitful as possible. 

As the Health and Human Services Department’s first chief technology officer, Park had a broad mandate but not a lot of staff. The idea behind the new position, he says, was to act like a “lean startup” smack in the middle of a mammoth federal agency, pulling together tools and resources on the fly to meet a particular need. 

In this case, one of the tools Park decided he needed was Ed Mullen, a freelance Web designer in Jersey City, N.J. 

Four months earlier, Mullen had been listening to talk radio and stewing over the controversial health care legislation making its tortuous way through Congress. The big debate was whether the law would include the so-called public option, a government-sponsored insurance plan. Mullen was preoccupied with another issue: the president’s idea of state-regulated insurance exchanges.

He was concerned ...

How to Manage Remotely

Much has been written about getting managers on board with telework. They often are advised on how to handle requests to work from home, supervise employees who aren’t in the office and engage teleworkers with the rest of their team. But what if it is the manager who wants to work remotely while others stay put? Based on the literature that is available, supervising from afar can be a successful arrangement with the right planning, execution and small changes in leadership style.

Before deciding where to work, a manager should take an honest inventory of how the office is running. If the group already is struggling to remain energized, in synch and on task, or if morale is low, going remote might not be the best choice. It is incumbent on the manager to determine what will be best for the group, putting aside personal preferences and the conveniences that teleworking could offer. If the office is running smoothly and employees are displaying satisfaction and competence without excessive supervision, then managers have more options.

If you do decide to work remotely, make it a priority to be available to employees. Supervising from home might actually require greater effort to ...

A Word About Leaks

Leaks of classified information are back in the news. Or more precisely, the hunt for leakers is making headlines again. After big news scoops on intelligence programs—involving counterterrorism operations in Yemen, drone strikes and a cyberwar campaign against Iran—lawmakers are accusing the White House of disclosing covert operations to make President Obama look strong on national security in an election year. The Obama administration, which has prosecuted an unprecedented number of government employees for allegedly disclosing classified information to journalists, insists that the president abhors leaks and no one in the White House gave away any national security secrets.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. And it all depends on how you define the word “leak.” For argument’s sake, let’s consider leaks to be disclosures of classified information. Officials reveal all kinds of information every day that could be sensitive or potentially embarrassing, but isn’t covered by a classification regime.

The next question is whether the leak was authorized.  

Authorized leaking happens all the time in Washington. If the president tells his counterterrorism adviser to give a speech on the United States’ use of drones to kill terrorists—which he did recently—the president ...

How to Ace Post-Award Contract Reviews

Contracting officers oversee many moving parts in the complex procurement process. But perhaps no other element of contracting strikes fear into their hearts more than the debriefing. 

For most procurement awards, contractors that were not selected can request to receive information on why they did not win, either in letter form or a sit-down meeting. Contracting officers worry that in-person debriefings, in particular, might disclose information that would trigger a bid protest. Managing debriefings is a tricky balance, but doing it right can save agencies time and money.

Acquisition officials first need to shake off their fear of providing the contractor with cause for a protest and acknowledge the significant benefits of debriefings, to both industry and government. Debriefings allow the government to share information that can improve the quality of proposals. They also offer rare face-to-face communication between contracting and acquisition officials and their counterparts in the private sector. For companies, this improves their chances of winning contracts. For federal officials, it drives better proposals, stronger competition, and more value for taxpayers. 

Debriefing officials must be aware of what they are required to disclose and what they are prohibited from disclosing. The Federal Acquisition Regulation requires them to ...

Keeping Projects On Track

Managing a major project can be overwhelming at times, and it's hard to know what to do when one well-thought out part of the plan comes crashing down.  Keeping the project’s momentum going while recovering from that initial mistake takes tremendous composure and focus. Almost every major project will face potential failure at some point, and it is the manager's job to keep the project from derailing.
 
KeyedIn Solutions, a software solutions and consulting firm, recently published a white paper titled "Averting Project Disaster." The authors note most projects fail due to lack of planning, control or communication or, most often, a combination of all three. Failure can come in the form of cost or schedule overruns, inability to achieve project objectives, or even damage to the organization’s financial health or mission. But there always is a turning point. The authors point out that just about every project will be headed in the wrong direction at some stage of its life cycle. The key is to spot that looming catastrophe and to address it before it becomes unavoidable.
 
The problem, however, is the people most involved with the project are often the least equipped to see ...