The VAAA then moved forward by delivering what was achievable and
would have an immediate impact, while focusing on incremental
improvement toward the ideal training program. Finally, the VAAA
validated competency mastery through a practical examination, and
conducted robust evaluation of the actual impact obtained through
the FAC-P/ PM development program. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1| Impact Monitoring Process
Rather than teaching theory, VAAA stresses putting the program
manager in a scenario that replicates workplace challenges and
integrates personal and leadership skills. We use this approach
with all programs, beginning with the Internship School. We design
situations so program managers apply these skills in the safe
environment of the academy, even pushing them to the point where
they might fail. We believe people learn from that, and they apply
what they have learned on the job.
The VAAAs goal is to ensure that learning continues outside the
classroom. True skill mastery is only possible if there is a direct
link between classroom training and application in the workplace.
We ask students to select a best practice they can apply to a
current project that will add to its value. We follow and assign
coaches to ensure students make progress, as well as to help them
identify and remove barriers to action plans.
We tell managers,Our students will not change the entire world, but
they will pick an action plan that will make an immediate
improvement. When students apply learning on the job, they find
there are returns on the time investment.
Certification Examination (Capstone)
The VAAA wants to ensure that the result of learning is a lasting
behavior change. To help accomplish this, a competency-based
assessment has become the final step of the FAC-P/PM training
program. This hands-on exam provides acquisition professionals,
their managers, and senior executives with assurance that program
graduates will achieve the competency level adequate to manage and
mitigate risks associated with simple, average, and complex capital
investment programs at the VA.
We all know the saying,Give a man a fish and he eats for a day;
teach a man to fish and he eats for a life time. However, it takes
time to learn to fish, and if you dont feed someone along the way,
they will starve. Therefore, the VAAA offers team training
workshops that are tailored to tackle specific program needs and
cross a programs lifecycle, enabling teams to address daily,
weekly, and monthly challenges while continuing to build the
individual competencies of its members.
Recently, the VAs Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security, and
Preparedness Jose Riojas had the VAAA conduct a custom team
training workshop. Preparedness ensures the ability of the
department to meet emergent national needs. The VAAA partnered with
the assistant secretary and the Preparedness Initiative Team to
assess program risks and performance gaps.
VAAA then developed a custom workshop that addressed the teams
competency gaps. It also provided program artifacts and enhanced
project management processes that directly modified and improved
program output. The team now manages its efforts with a common
program vision for both of its major sub-initiatives: Homeland
Security Presidential Directive Twelve (HSPD-12) and Integrated
Operations Center (IOC).
Members of the Preparedness Initiative Team communicate across work
streams with a consistent set of program requirements and
artifacts; they share vocabulary and improve overall stakeholder
communications and forge data-driven decisions. Lastly, the team
delivered a much-enhanced operating plan that provides VA senior
executives with the insights and confidence required to make
Reaching the Goal
I have told my team that we all encounter problems in the work we
do. I urge,Dont worry about finding the 100 percent solutionyou
will never get there. So, we started with an application and
scenario-based training program. The result of which brought us
close to 60 percent of the goal.
With 40 percent still to go, the team could have been discouraged.
Instead, we made moving forward an agency goal. I learned to
persevere rather than waste time worrying about what could derail
us. Even when youre on the right track, if you do not move forward,
the next train will run you over. And even if I heaved sighs at
home, I put a smile on every day when I came to work. I look for
that same enthusiasm, willingness to make a difference, and usable
skills in my team members.
And its worth noting that the team was not restricted to federal
employees. The VAAA ensures a close partnership with all of its
vendors. For example, over 12 months of development, we established
a high-quality partnership with Management Concepts, who created
the FCA-P/PMs practical examination.
For the VA to be successful, performance improvement is essential.
Internal and external stakeholders the IG, the GAO, and OMBhave to
agree that we are actually making improvements. During our impact
monitoring analysis, improvements to VA operations have been
categorized into four areas:
1| maturing program or project management activities by a) adopting
a management structure; b) formalizing a project management
practice; or c) improving an existing one
2| integrating cost, budget, and performance management
methodologies in existing program or project management activities
3| improving buy-in and ensuring the organization is aligned to
program or project goals by strengthening the communication
processes and the strategic or organizational alignment
4| institutionalizing training concepts on-the job by enhancing
FAC-P/PM self-learning or staff learning.
As of December 2010, 70 percent of surveyed program participants
indicated that their action plans are making a positive impact to
the cost, schedule, or performance of their program, project, or
capital investment. In addition, 82 percent of participants
selected improvements that are directly improving program or
project management artifacts, processes, and procedures. Finally,
96 percent of students say the curriculum aligns with the skills
they need to be successful in their job.
As participants come into the FAC-P/PM program, the VAAA asks in
what ways and for what reasons was your program currently failing.
We return to them after six, nine, and 12 months to see how the
course has affected their performance on the job.
Results show that after the course, an increase of 26 percent of
program managers are performing in ways that lead to success, such
as defining requirements correctly, measuring performance, and
controlling schedule and cost to a baseline. Our secret: We
concentrate on one thing at a time. You do not change the world
After having built a program of foundational knowledge of
incremental program management, we are now focusing on expert-level
training, which covers in-depth knowledge of specific
organizational processes and procedures. Its like learning to play
football: First you learn foundational skills, then you learn the
skills that go into mastering your teams playbook. If you dont know
what end zone to go to, you will never score.
Reviving the Base Realignment and Closure
The leading practices taught in the VAs FAC-P/PM training program
have enabled several VA acquisition professionals to revive
struggling programs. One long-delayed $200 million construction
project associated with a Base Realignment and Closure initiative
has been recharged with the aid of a new project management
process: the Integrated Master Plan (IMP).
The IMP, which had not been in place prior to the VAs FAC-P/PM
training program, has provided unprecedented visibility and
re-established formal procedures, communication, and accountability
with key stakeholders. Implementation of earned value management
(EVM) techniques has helped identify underperforming areas and take
According the initiatives supervisor and participants, they were
largely successful because the FAC-P/ PM training forced them to
step back and look at the big picture. With new perspective, they
found that they were better able to choose appropriate project
management strategies to fix project failures.
Addressing Barriers to Learning
With any culture change, the first barrier is buy-in. Its been our
experience that coaching and performance support tools help break
down the barriers between the classroom and the worksite.
For example, when one student asked to participate in the program,
the supervisor replied,Oh, you are drinking that FAC-P/PM Kool-Aid.
Today that supervisor is not only sending his entire staff to
training, but he also has enrolled himself after observing how the
VAAA supports participants on the job to ensure that learning has
become integrated into day-to-day activities.
Also, the VA Deputy Secretary asks every senior leader to come to a
one-day workshop that explains project management, demonstrates
what the VAAA is doing, and shows what they can do to actively
support the program. Since senior executives have participated in
the one-day training, our numbers have skyrocketed.
The VAAA has also learned that although people are always looking
for training in advanced systems, fundamental skills such as
communication are often what people need. We help project managers
learn to speak to one another across disciplines. Project
management fundamentals cut across IT, construction, health
products, and services management. As one project manager said to
me,I just did not know how to speak their language.
Working Across Agencies
Currently, FAC-P/PM is a VA program. But it has been designed as a
transferrable model. If it works at the VA, it will work at other
agencies. But the VAAA also can serve other agencys needs.
The benefit to the VA is to spread fixed costs over many students;
the benefit to other agencies is to improve effectiveness and lower
costs. If program managers from other agencies agree with this
focus on fundamentals, they stand to benefit from the lessons we
have learned. Already, several other organizations have signed up
for VAAA educational opportunities, including the U.S. Department
of Education and the FBI.
Introducing FAC-P/M to a broader audience makes economic sense. For
our part, we want to increase collaboration among federal agencies.
I would like to develop a Center of Excellenceto apply the
development work at the VA to the entire federal civilian and
military marketplace. Our job is to ensure that people ask to come
here. the VA Deputy SecretaryIt makes sense to invest in people who
can reduce costs to VAor to any other federal agency. This is not
simply check the box training. Students connect with gusto.