Fixing Program Management
As projects become more complex, better skills and strategies are needed.
When a major project goes awry, the government's public service image gets a serious black eye. Consider, for example, the negative attention the FBI has received from the failed Virtual Case File project. Mismanagement of a project can detract from an agency's capability to accomplish its mission. Government and industry are working together to address project management, a key area where cooperation can create positive change.
In 2003, the Office of Management and Budget indicated that 771 projects with a total cost of $20.9 billion were at risk. Nearly 700 of those have inadequate IT security, and 600 fail to make necessary changes in human resources and business processes, OMB says.
Many agencies already are improving project management. For example, the Energy Department has a well-defined workflow process for capital investment projects greater than $5 million. And critical decisions by senior managers are made at key points in a project's life cycle.
The first step in fixing deficiencies is to acknowledge the shortage of experienced project managers. This gap is not surprising: Agencies take on hundreds of projects of the size and scope encountered only once or twice a year by most Fortune 500 companies.
To improve the talent pool, government and industry should identify the project management abilities needed to avoid common pitfalls. Whether the project is building space shuttles or integrating information technology, certain core management skills are needed. These include critical analysis, intelligent end-to-end planning, management of personnel, and strategies for change and communication. It is important to define expectations in order to ensure cooperation within and among agencies and sound governance of a project manager's efforts.
The Industry Advisory Council is working with its counterparts in government to define a universal project management skill set. This exchange is prompting frank discussion to identify the skills needed for managing projects of any scope, scale or type.
Government and industry leaders are eager to improve project management. At the Homeland Security Department, for example, some chief information officers have advocated a governmentwide approach to certification of project managers. CIO management directives 1400 and 0782 are aimed at certification within the agency. Additionally, many CIOs at Homeland Security encourage project management offices to participate in government-wide discussions about certification.
The Energy Department has its own experience- and competency-based certification program. Similar ones have been initiated at NASA and the CIA. Also, OMB emphasizes project management in its reviews of agency investment proposals and budgeting. By promoting a process called earned value management, which enables contracting officers to compare planned cost, actual cost and output of projects, OMB ensures that agencies have metrics for measuring success and identifying problems early.
Agencies could make valuable contributions to a governmentwide certification plan that could complement formalized programs at the Project Management Institute in Newtown Square, Pa., and Stanford University in California, or even enlist these neutral bodies in the certification process. As government and industry continue to share information, more solutions will evolve. Then a new era of project management can begin, serving taxpayers more effectively.
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