Government budget cutbacks and increasing project
complexity have boosted demand for project and program managers who
can squeeze efficiencies out of public-sector
Federal, state, and local governments face budget challenges that
make it essential to efficiently manage public-sector projects and
justify project expenditures to increasingly skeptical taxpayers.
The best way to do this is to hire and empower skilled,
credentialed project and program managers. Finding the right
individual is not easy, and it is only one of the many challenges
public projects face. Other challenges await them.
Misunderstanding the Project and Program Manager
Government managers may not understand what a project or program
manager does, so they may not secure a manager with the requisite
skills and experience. Confusion over these roles stems in part
from the fact that there is no project, program, and portfolio
management career path in government.
The Office of Personnel Management has no entry for this position
in its job series. This lack of understanding may foster conflict
and can lead to serious problems, such as failure to hire a project
manager before a project begins or chronic project and program
Increasing Project Complexity
Ongoing government belt-tightening is causing public-private
partnerships (PPPs) to become more popular. This model results in
an increase in project complexity, particularly with respect to
roles and responsibilities.
Poor communications among the multiple stakeholders in PPPswhich
can involve numerous government agencies and private-sector
partnerscan make decisions harder to reach, obfuscate lines of
authority, and lead to inconsistencies of expectations and
duplications of effort. These complexities sap projects of their
The Accidental Project or Program Manager
The accidental project or program manager syndrome occurs often as
management responsibility is given to someone who demonstrates
leadership but does not have the right skills. The lack of
government incentive programs to recruit and keep talent is partly
to blame, as is the arduous process of terminating project and
program managers who are not up to the job.
Addressing the Challenges
Government agencies need to take action now to identify the
challenges that do existincluding defining the role of project and
program managers. Here are three specific steps that the public
sector can take.
1| Clarifying the IT Project Managers Role
The problems stemming from having a poorly defined role for program
and project managers are being recognized. For example, the federal
government is considering the creation of a specialized career path
for IT program managers tasked with leading projects from start to
finish. This would involve attracting high-level skilled program
managers to oversee a multitude of complex IT projects. They also
would have the ability to share best practices across other
agencies and to work in those other agencies. Once established,
this job classification should help set appropriate expectations
for project managers within a program and clarify the
responsibilities of those managers.
The administration recognized the scope and nature of this problem
in a report issued in December 2010 by then U.S. Chief Information
Officer Vivek Kundra. His 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform
Federal Information Technology Management should have a significant
effect, since it requires that a program must have a dedicated
program manager and a fully staffed integrated program team before
it receives approval.
In the past, projects often were approved without assigned
managers. No one set and monitored the implementation strategy,
managed stakeholder expectations, adhered to best practices,
ensured the project finished on time and on budget, or defined a
set of benchmarks to measure the projects success.
2| Improving Communication
Government programs are often faced with the need for better lines
of communication up and down the management chain. Open lines of
communication encourage team creativity and can lead to innovation
in a rigid government environment.
Communication tools include platforms, such as monthly project
meetings and open forums, where lessons learned can be shared to
help keep communication lines flowing. Collaboration tools provide
a simple and cost-efficient way to share the status of projects.
Implementing a metrics system to share performance with all
stakeholders is a way to keep everyone up-to-date with program
3| Filling the Talent Gap
There is a deficit of project and program management talent across
industries and great pressure on organizations to identify and
retain qualified talentthose who are adept at overseeing the human
elements of the project teams they manage. This talent gap is
especially prevalent within government organizations for a variety
of reasons, which include the lack of salary incentives and limited
government talent recruiting processes (see Strategic Planning
article on page 26).
Identifying the appropriate talent with the skills to overcome
challenges posed by the human dynamics of a project team is the
first step. When evaluating project and program managers for
positions in an organization, human resource executives should look
for those who have the ability to communicate effectively, solve
problems, and lead and motivate all project stakeholders. The right
program managers have vast program management knowledge, skills and
the appropriate training. Among the key attributes are
- management skills
- communication skills
- team motivation skills
- financial skills
- negotiation skills.
Government organizations need to keep up with the private sector by
creating a career path and defined role for the program and project
managers. This will help reward top talent and create incentives
for employees to stay and develop their careers in government.
Nonetheless, the lack of available talent forces government
organizations to be creative in sourcing expertise. For example,
Kenneth B. Sheely, deputy director for the Global Threat Reduction
Initiative (GTRI) of the National Nuclear Security Administration
(See sidebar), has overseen the implementation of several
steps to increase GTRIs resources in the face of tight budgets,
adding a project management (PM) performance element in all federal
staff performance appraisals meaning that one of four elements, or
25 percent, of GTRI federal employees annual performance evaluation
(pay increase and bonus), is based on their PM capabilities
- creating an independent evaluation team (including both
internal and external experts) to secure ideas to further improve
its PM process and benchmark against the latest industry best
- training its current staff in PM principles. It has sponsored
two Project Management Institute (PMI) training courses and
developed an internal course.
Implementing Best Practices
Many government initiatives have been implemented to foster best
practices. These have included the Raines Rules, a memorandum
issued in 1996 by Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin
Raines that set forth guidance under the Information Technology
Management Reform Act (ITMRA) on how agencies should purchase such
technology. Another was the Clinger-Cohen Act, a 1996 law designed
to improve the way the federal government acquires, uses, and
disposes of information technology.
A defined set of standards and best practices can help alleviate
some of the complexities program that managers face, especially
when managing public-private partnerships. Government organizations
have begun to understand the value of formalized program management
practices and support the development of competency in this area.
PMIs Successful Program Management in the U.S. Federal Government
study recommends the following best practices to help government
program managers stay within budget, complete projects on time, and
otherwise ensure successful outcomes.
Superior Stakeholder Engagement
The executive stakeholder or sponsor role is crucial to the
successful outcome of a project. However, government project
stakeholders tend to focus primarily on performance within their
functions, and not on the holistic outcome of the program. Having
an executive stakeholder who is knowledgeable in project scope,
project risk, and project quality management is essential.
Executive stakeholders need to understand both how the program fits
into the larger organizational picture and the finite details of
its day-to-day challenges.
Responsive Program Thinking
Despite inter-agency and intra-agency management complexity,
government projects can operate at a rapid pace that allows for
both business goals and the project execution plans that support
those goals to change dramatically. Projects need to be able to
adapt to changes quickly, while at the same time being able to
maintain a level of structure. This involves risk management, team
collaboration, and effective communication.
Creativity and Innovation
Creativity precedes innovation; it generates the new ideas that
result in innovation. An environment that encourages and supports
new idea generation and follow-through will not only enable
continuous improvement and connection to the overall vision,
strategy, and goals for the organization, but also result in
greater employee satisfaction, morale, personal development, and
Though government projects and programs face their own set of
unique challenges, success stories are not in short supply. The
Successful Program Management in the U.S. Federal Government study
conducted by PMI in 2010 examined successful U.S. government
programs across a wide variety of agencies to uncover thematic
factors and best practices.
According to the study, federal government agencies can reduce
costs by 20 to 30 percent by implementing project, program, and
portfolio management best practices. They help find appropriate
talent, cross bureaucratic barriers and get government agencies to
work more efficiently and effectively, staying on schedule and on
GTRIs approach shows how these standards can be tailored to make
the management of complex projects more efficient. According to
Sheely, GTRI has documented program risk-reduction strategies that
include consistent guidance to be applied by its multiple
contractors in more than 100 countries. Criteria include:
- a prioritized approach to risk-reduction efforts identifying
which materials and quantities are the first and priority and
making sure the highest priorities are addressed first
- a graded approach to risk reduction that spends more resources
and installs more upgrades on the highest risks and less on each
lower-level threat, which ensures a wise and balanced investment of
- a consistent approach to installation of upgrades through the
use of toolboxes, checklists, and automated tools
- a documented approach using the GTRI Program
Management Plan, which, among other guidance, lists roles and
responsibilities of PMs; budget, organizational, and work breakdown
structures; and milestones, metrics, spending plans, and change of
The Emerging Paradigm
Ensuring that well-qualified personnel enter the profession of
project, program, and portfolio management is crucial at a time
when budget pressures and calls for transparency are increasing
Recruiting individuals who have the project and program management
experience and knowledge to drive every aspect of a multi-layered
project is critical.
Embracing a benchmark of standards and core competencies for
project and program managers, as well as providing incentives to
retain talent, is necessary to create attractive career paths for
Organizations that have well-developed project and program
management talent strategies in place and defined project and
program management roles are great models for government agencies.
Organizations such as the FAA and NNSA know how to attract and
reward top performers and to establish multidisciplinary teams.
With these teams in place, best practices and standards can be
implemented to execute successful programs.
Comprehensive IT: The National Nuclear Security
by Kenneth b. Sheely
The national nuclear Security administration (nnSa) is a government
agency that recently implemented a project management framework to
increase efficiency. Through the creation of project management
tools, standards, and best practices nnSa developed what it called
g2, a stateof-the-art project management information system
developed to manage its global Threat reduction initiative (gTri).
nnSa established gTri in 2004 to consolidate efforts to prevent the
acquisition of nuclear and radiological materials for use in
weapons of mass destruction and other acts of terrorism. in april
2009, President Obama announced his intention to lead a global
campaign to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world
within four years, placing renewed emphasis on nnSa and its gTri.
in addition to dramatically accelerating gTris work, the
administration increased the programs budget by more than 67
percent, bringing the total to $558.8 million.
With increased resources, a larger workload and a global
organizational structure, nnSa recognized the need for an
integrated suite of program management tools, resulting in its
development of g2.
The goal of the g2 project was to incorporate all the project
management tools into a single, comprehensive iT platform. for the
first time, g2 allowed nnSa project managers to quickly and
effectively filter and analyze large amounts of real time,
geo-spatial linked information and integrate that data with scope,
schedule, cost, and infrastructure information for the entire
portfolio of gTri projects. as a result of g2, nnSa was able to
increase the scale of its work and manage large increases in
resources committed to gTri without having to hire additional
Phase one of the g2 project was initiated in february 2007 and
delivered a testable prototype in July of that year. The 2009
mandate prompted the development of phase two of the g2 system.
This phase was completed in april 2010 in conjunction with the
nuclear Security Summit in Washington, which brought together 49
countries to focus on the security of nuclear materials.
by following a defined set of project management standards and
practices, nnSa was able to deploy the updated g2 system in 2010,
ahead of schedule, changing the way that nnSa and gTri plans,
integrates, executes, tracks, controls, and adjusts its portfolio
not only did it reach its intended goals, the system now serves as
a model for layered, global management endeavors that involve
complex portfolio programs. in april 2010, at the completion of
phase two, g2 was used to prepare for the presidents nuclear
Kenneth B. Sheely is deputy director, Global Threat Reduction
Initiative, National Nuclear Security Administration. Contact him