Moving from High Risk to success via effective project management

With the new Congress off and running, the just-released GAO High Risk List is larger than ever. Two new areas were added to the list, which calls attention to agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerability to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation: “Improving the Management of IT Acquisitions and Operations” and “Managing Risks and Improving VA Health Care.” Of the 32 areas on the high-risk list, the majority would benefit from ensuring the fundamentals of project and program management are being applied in terms of culture, people and process; specifically those outlined below.

Federal IT Investments

While the executive branch has had some success with numerous initiatives to better-manage the more than $80 billion invested annually in IT, the

being the most notable, many federal IT investments continue failing to deliver return or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages. This has contributed little to positive mission-related outcomes.

Some specific criteria outlined by GAO to measure progress include that within four years, 80 percent of their recommendations for improved management of IT acquisitions and programs should be implemented. In addition, 80 percent of the major acquisitions by the government should deliver functionality every 12 months. Specific thresholds of savings should be achieved: 80 percent of prescribed PortfolioStat savings ($6B planned) and 80 percent of the over $5B in data center consolidation.

Despite numerous frustrating stumbles in the area of IT acquisition and implementation in the federal government over the years, the IT sector has finally made a formal appearance on the illustrious High Risk List. This was specifically done as described by Comptroller General Gene Dodaro in recent testimony before the House Oversight Government Reform Committee, calling attention to the applicable provisions of FITARA that includes specific provisions to strengthen not-often-discussed resources.

It’s important to keep in mind that resources are not always limited to funding, appropriations and budgetary authority. Key resources are also those that are the strategic skill sets of a properly trained, assigned and motivated project and program management workforce. Mr. Dodaro also testified that “The basic problem that I’ve seen over the years is there’s a lack of discipline to follow good practices,” when responding to the specific implementation and cost savings benefits of the FITARA provisions in an answer to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va). The issue going forward is how to standardize the training, development, retention and portability of that talent across the government so that leading practices can be followed, and consistency of project and program delivery is strengthened.

VA Heath Care

Improving VA health care has been in the federal spotlight since last year’s revelations of culture challenges, excessive patient wait-times, and overall inability to deliver health care to those in need.

Successful health care systems are challenged to consistently deliver projects and programs across a number of portfolios and the VA health care system is no different. However, the VA continues to make progress, specifically where acquisition and health care intersect. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) recently established a Health Care Program Executive Office (PEO), which is charged with establishing programs to standardize acquisition of health care requirements. VHA implemented the VA Acquisition Academy’s (VAAA) Enterprise Program/Project Management Training Model within their PEO. The VHA PEO achieved $390M in program savings as documented in VA Office of Inspector General Report “Audit of Savings Reported under the Office of Management and Budget’s Acquisition Savings Initiative.” However, these are the kinds of successful practices that the VA should look to as internal leading practices that should be captured and amplified throughout the organization as it continues to seek improvements in management, acquisitions and services to Veterans.

It’s also important to note that aside from examples of savings, the fact that the number of aging or disabled veterans treated by the VA has grown by more than 2 million since 2002, and a Congressional increase in funding by 85 percent during the same period, funding alone is only effective to a certain point. The incorporation of a strategic human capital plan that subsequently trains, develops and empowers the workforce to impact the mission, such as those completing VAAA training, is an investment that produces the most necessary unit of successful transformational change an organization can hope for—people. People need to have the necessary management skills and knowledge to replicate and amplify localized successes across the enterprise. Cultures, accountability and other reforms within the VA health care system are, without a doubt, necessary. However, the core competency of delivering projects and programs to the necessary end-users must be in the mix.

DOD also should focus on the benefits of successful acquisition program management, associated frameworks, and core integration of the many disciplines that produce a successful acquisition program. Not to mention, the ability to effectively structure, manage, deliver and transition an acquisition program to regular operations will likely be at the forefront of ongoing discussions for acquisition reform this year.

GAO’s High Risk List tells us there’s an ingredient missing from the potential actions an organization can take to meet necessary criteria and get off of the list. That ingredient is a standardized strategic plan that addresses project and program management skills identification and development. This must include standardized use of leading practices from both the public and private sector, and the ability for both the executive and legislative branch to have a common benchmark of performance in core areas of project and program delivery. PMI’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession® research shows a number of factors that contribute to this success, including a focus on what we consider the basics:

·Fully understanding the value of project management

·Having actively engaged executive sponsors

·Aligning projects and programs to strategy/policy

·Developing and maintaining project management talent

·Using standardized project management practices throughout the organization

Absent this direction, the focus and discussions will remain stuck on secondary symptomatic issues such as risks and failures with the same two “cures”—funding and statutes. It’s time to equip all government agencies, including the 32 areas on the high-risk list, with a standardized project management framework that will shift programs off the high-risk list and into the win column.

About the Author

635584738364567564-Jordon-SimsJordon Sims is director of organization relations and programs for the Project Management Institute. He formerly served as an active-duty submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, and he has held numerous positions within the Pentagon, Capitol Hill (appropriations), and Energy Department.(Photo: Courtesy)

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