How project management can create a more efficient government

us-capitol-477987_640As the 114th Congress starts with many important priorities—efforts to grow the economy and manage America’s interests globally—it is encouraging that House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has a focus on “a more efficient, effective, accountable government.” While past Congresses have talked about improving government operations, this renewed focus on efficiency and accountability provides an opportunity to credibly ensure the interests of every taxpayer by improving organizational project management in the federal government.

The development of organizational project management capabilities involves leveraging global leading practices, standardization and common performance standards, which ultimately drives heightened transparency and governance via available and existing resources. Specifically, organizational project management ties an organization’s projects to its business strategy ensuring that those projects are not just executed ad-hoc, but are supporting business objectives and intent. Regardless of where Congress’ attention lies throughout 2015, organizational project management provides the framework and means for the federal government to align policy development to its overall implementation for all aspects of government operations.

Organizational project management along with project, program and portfolio management best practices just make sense. They can reduce government agencies costs by 20-30 percent, according to the 2010 PMI report Program Management 2010:A study of program management in the U.S. Federal Government. Although the final verdict is not in, we look to the trends of the PMI Pulse of the Profession.® In 2013, we found government organizations risked US$148 million for every US$1 billion dollars spent, which is 10 percent more than the general survey findings. While 2014 Pulse findings indicate government is on par with private industry. While this is a mere two data points, it indicates increased efficiency is achievable via project and program management.

Making a significant change in organizational project management is primarily about three things—people, policy and process.

People. Ensuring that well-qualified, credentialed personnel are recruited and retained in defined project, program and portfolio management positions is crucial. It’s important to promote and protect the project management workforce with the training and support to maximize its ability to affect agency mission. A straightforward, no-cost way to do this is by establishing dedicated career path and job classification for project and program managers.

Policy. Standardized practices will add to the agility of the government. Standardizing policy approaches to project and program management will increase transparency, flexibility and the ability to oversee programs. It also allows the government to identify problems and develop responses, and more-effectively focus on the unknown thereby increasing overall agility.

Process. A defined set of standards and leading practices can help alleviate some of the complexities program managers face, especially when managing the emerging popularity of complex vehicles such as public-private partnerships, national defense programs and IT systems. Government organizations continue to increase their understanding of the value of formalized program management practices and support the development of competency in this area to ensure policy implementation via programs is accomplished as intended.

Building on the energy of the new Congress, it is especially encouraging to see the efforts of Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who are renewing the bi-partisan Government Efficiency Caucus with the focus on seeking new-found efficiencies in government as the respective Co-Chairs. The Government Efficiency Caucus, originally established in 2012, is a bi-partisan endeavor to pursue policy initiatives that will make government more efficient and transparent. As the Caucus seeks pragmatic solutions so taxpayers can be confident their government will deliver the services it promises—efficiently and in a way reduces the chance for wasted tax dollars—organizational project management is a great place to start.

One of the most essential—and simple—ways to make the government a more efficient steward of taxpayer funds is by instilling organizational project management leading practices already proven in both the private and public sectors. The following initiatives are ongoing demonstrations of effectively improving program management:

Social Security Administration developed a multi-tier career track for program managers that requires both training and experience for advancement, surmising that more credentialed project managers correlates to increased project success.

DOD’s Better Buying Power Reforms encompassed key attributes of effective program management, allowing for innovative acquisition strategies to succeed built upon alignment to the fundamental tenets of strong program management. This resulted in a specific savings of US$298M by the U.S. Navy in the DDG-51 procurement program.

Department of Homeland Security, Acquisition Management Directive 102-01 outlined several reforms to program management, including restructuring and strengthening oversight of all major acquisition programs, via a strong Acquisition Review Board (ARB) system. This drove senior leadership awareness of acquisition program status and credibility. Although the pace and vigor of the initial ARB success has somewhat faded with internal restructuring, the enabling parameters are there and set for successful program management if fully leveraged.

GAO recommended that DHS modify its policies to better reflect key program and portfolio management practices, ensure acquisition programs fully comply with DHS acquisition policy, prioritize major acquisition programs department wide and account for anticipated resource constraints, and document prerequisites for delegating major milestone decision authority. The intent is to drive stronger alignment between multi-year funding and resource plans to proper portfolio management practices.

These reforms have demonstrated the benefits of improving organizational project management. It’s time to scale these reforms, enterprise wide, and put into place the leadership, coordination, communication, human capital development and performance measures. This will yield continuous improvement in project and program management in an integrated manner across the whole of the federal government. The new 114th Congress recognizes the need to reform how government projects and programs are managed. Now is the time to take action to finally address this important issue.

About the Author

Jordon Sims is director of organization relations and programs for the Project Management Institute.

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