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Achieving Project Management Success in the Federal Government

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Gain Valuable Insight into the Government's Project Management Best Practices!
Although project management is not new to the federal government, the discipline has taken on renewed importance in the face of the ever-increasing size, complexity, and number of mission-critical projects being undertaken by every branch and agency. This book addresses the key facets of project management, from organization and structure to people and process. A variety of government entities share their best practices in areas including leadership, technology, teams, communication, methodology, and performance management.
Based on research and interviews with a wide range of project managers, Achieving Project Management Success in the Federal Government presents a realistic cross section of the project management discipline in the largest single enterprise in the world—the U.S. federal government.

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Chapter 1 - The Evolution of Federal Project Management: Then and Now

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We need to internalize this idea of excellence.

— PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

Throughout history mankind has labored to achieve amazing feats that defy our imagination: the great pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the D-Day invasion. Human beings—and governments—naturally seek to apply resources toward the creation of monuments, public works, and war. Although such efforts have spanned thousands of years, only in the past 60 years has the discipline of project management come to be formally recognized and defined.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) describes the federal government as “the world’s largest and most complex entity.”1 In terms of scale, the federal government expended about $3 trillion in fiscal year 2008 on operations and myriad projects to develop and provide new products and services—from bridge construction to aircraft development, from AIDS awareness to nuclear material disposal. The expenditure of these funds represents the single largest government marketplace in the world, employing many millions of people directly or indirectly. Federal project dollars are spread across state and local governments, often defining entire industries such as defense.

 

Chapter 2 - Fitting Project Management into the Organization: round Peg/Square hole

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There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.

—PRESIDENT LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON

The town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, sits at the confluence of the Little Kanawha and the Ohio rivers. This small, comfortable city of 35,000 is home to the Parkersburg High Big Reds, the Sentinel newspaper, and the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt. A glass and concrete building houses the bureau’s Administrative Resource Center (ARC), which provides administrative support services to other government agencies. ARC is one of those unusual quasi-governmental business units: a franchise department that is allowed to operate as a self-sustaining business. ARC provides its customers—other federal agencies—financial and administrative support services.

By signing up for ARC’s services, a federal agency is able to streamline its financial reporting process and ensure that its financial reporting requirements are met. In a typical arrangement with customers, ARC staff converts the data stored in the client’s databases to ARC’s hosted services. These projects are process-and change management-intensive, causing the customer to standardize its typical business functions. In 2004, recognizing that it needed a more structured path for customers, ARC created a project management office (PMO) to manage customers through the conversion process. For the past five years, the PMO has been quietly at work transforming the way ARC operates.

 

Chapter 3 - Regulations and Legislation: The emerging Context for Federal Project Management

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The Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words.

—NATIONAL REVIEW1

Since the 1970s, the federal government has adopted laws and regulations aimed at improving the accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness of government operations. From presidential orders on management paradigms to long-standing legislative cornerstones, these laws and regulations provide a framework for project and program management.

As projects and programs have grown increasingly large and complex, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other agencies have issued guidance on performance-based management that aligns with the tenets of project management and, in some cases, addresses specific topics like earned value management, certification, and project/program inventory. The federal government appears to be in the process of creating an enterprise structure for centrally governing the scope and scale of projects.

 

Chapter 4 - Building Strong Teams: The Vehicle for Successful Projects

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Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

—ANDREW CARNEGIE

Managers cannot do all the work of their teams; if they could, there would be no need for teams. Even the 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie knew that, as much as he would have liked to do everything himself, he needed others. One of the project manager’s or leader’s key responsibilities in both the federal government and the private sector is to ensure that team members work well with each other and are able to perform their individual jobs.

The particular structure of the team will depend in large part on the task, the organization or agency, and the people available (see Figure 4-1). The ideal staffing for a task or project simply may not be possible.

Figure 4-1: Project Team Structure

 

Chapter 5 - Leveraging Technology for Project Success: New Tools of the Trade

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Information is the Currency for Democracy.

—THOMAS JEFFERSON

The federal government is utterly reliant on information technology to execute projects and programs of all shapes and sizes—from deep-sea exploration to GIS satellites and everything in between. Of the $74 billion the government spent on IT in 2009, a relatively small portion was for systems that support managing projects. These project management systems range from simple project scheduling applications to function-specific tools (like risk management) to portfolio management systems to full-fledged enterprise project management information systems. Government agencies rely heavily on these tools and systems throughout all phases of the project lifecycle.

Project management also relies increasingly on a wide range of systems, data feeds, and information channels, all of which contribute to a highly complex environment. From EVM data fields to the data required by E-300, a tremendous amount of source data is needed to adequately address the complexities of a modern project. Today’s systems link directly into budgeting, human resources, information security, and other internal sources. And systems must extend beyond the firewall as well.

 

Chapter 6 - The Crucial Role of Communication: Telling the Story

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The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.

—EDWARD R. MORROW

On April 7, 1865, two days before the American Civil War ended, Abraham Lincoln sent a telegram to his commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant. The telegram read, “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”1 This is a masterful example of concise communication. Lincoln—upper management—conveyed to his project manager, Grant, exactly what he wanted done. He also conveyed his reason, even though Grant likely knew that Lee and his formerly fearsome army had been forced to flee their Petersburg and Richmond defenses and should be caught. Two days after Grant received Lincoln’s message, Lee surrendered.

Project managers are not likely to have their communications studied a century and a half after they are made. Project managers will also not likely be working for the same high stakes that Lincoln and Grant were. However, even seemingly small projects aimed at solving more mundane problems may well serve to prevent major future problems. As Lincoln showed in the entire body of his Civil War communication, “telling the story,” or setting the project in context, is an important contributor—perhaps the most important contributor—to project success. This remains true today.

 

Chapter 7 - Leadership and the Project Manager: Bearing the Brunt of the Storm

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I believe the techniques and principles that work are timeless. It’s all about collaborating with people, building trust and confidence, and making sure you take care of the followers. You also need to give them what they need to do their work well, solve problems, face reality, create opportunities and monitor risks.

—GENERAL COLIN POWELL (U.S. ARMY RETIRED)1

The harsh and cynical view, regretfully often fact-based, is that the difference between leadership and management is that leaders motivate people to follow while managers force people to follow. A somewhat less harsh statement is that “Good managers do things right. Good leadership does the right thing.”2 As well as being cynical, for good leaders and managers, this view is oversimplified. A team needs both leaders and managers, and they can—even should—be the same people.

People running organizations, from the small work team assigned a task to the entire U.S. government, need to act as both leaders and managers, with strong elements of facilitator and mentor thrown into the mix. These are all different roles, but they are compatible and complementary—and all essential. Today’s federal project managers must expand their focus to include both leadership and management elements3 (see Figure 7-1).

 

Chapter 8 - Engaging Stakeholders: Establishing Effective Project Relationships

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… I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict adherence to the view that, for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well.

—ALAN GREENSPAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE1

The Office of the Chief Architect at GSA’s Public Buildings Service (PBS) is a busy place. With such mandates as improving border security checkpoint structures, creating innovative new workspaces, and retrofitting government buildings to increase energy efficiency, there is no shortage of work to do. Whether constructing new buildings or refurbishing existing structures, PBS interacts with a wide range of stakeholders across a complicated mix of regulations, laws, industry standards, historical precedents, and other constraints. PBS project managers must deliver construction projects on time and on budget, and often in the face of conflicting demands from stakeholders. With each new project comes a new set of local, regional, and federal partners that must support the project, at least nominally.

 

Chapter 9 - Project Management Competencies and Skills: Success through Experience

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Our job as a federal agency is management and oversight, to be responsible stewards of the public’s trust and resources. Therefore, we must have a highly qualified and technically proficient management team and staff. My aim is to have a high performing organization, sustained by a career oriented workforce, driven to produce results that are important now and into the future.

—JAMES A. RISPOLI, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT of ENERGY1

Numerous surveys and assessments conducted by OMB, GAO, and individual agencies in cooperation with industry have shown that project management, and in particular the skills associated with being a successful project manager, are critical to agencies achieving their missions.2 The practice and discipline of project management has been institutionalized on the defense side of the federal government for years. The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and the Defense Acquisition Workforces Improvement Act (DAWIA) certification in a variety of project-and program management-related areas are clear examples of this commitment to the development of project management skills and competencies. In the past few years, the practice and discipline of project management have been expanding by leaps and bounds across the civilian side of the federal government as well.

 

Chapter 10 - Project Manager Professional Development: Building the Project Management Corps

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Successful advancement of project management requires the sponsorship and commitment of management. Specifically it is the duty of project managers to establish advancement processes and to manage the initiative. Accomplishing this objective requires the effective allocation of time for project owners, project managers, and project participants to acquire the required competencies.

— DAVID CLELAND AND LEWIS IRELAND
PROJECT MANAGER’S HANDBOOK: APPLYING BEST PRACTICES

ACROSS GLOBAL INDUSTRIES

The increased demand for project managers, particularly in light of the growing number of retirements from the federal government, presents a challenge for the next generation of project managers. Many are stepping into a void in organizations where the project management environment is immature and the discipline and practices are informal at best. As part of the maturation process, organizations need to design and implement programs to support the emergence of the project manager “class” and individuals need to develop the relevant skills through formal training, certification, and mentoring.

 

Chapter 11 - Governance and Project Portfolio Development: Steering the Ship

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You’ve got to think about the big things, so that all the small things go in the right directions.

—ALVIN TOFFLER, FUTURIST, AUTHOR

With a billion dollar budget, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a relatively small federal agency, but one with a highly critical mission. As the regulating agency for civilian nuclear activity in the United States, NRC oversees more than 350 nuclear power plants, as well as thousands of medical and commercial facilities that use nuclear materials. NRC protects people and the environment by ensuring a safe and viable commercial nuclear sector. To deliver on its mission, NRC relies on a sturdy backbone of information technology. A limited budget and IT department resources demand that NRC leadership make smart decisions at all phases of the project lifecycle. They have neither the budget for expensive mistakes nor a tolerance for lapses in service. What helps keep NRC’s regulatory infrastructure on target is a robust set of project management processes.

 

Chapter 12 - Adopting and Applying Methodologies: Choosing the Right Path

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Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

—ALBERT EINSTEIN

In 2010, the U.S. population is projected to be roughly 309 million people living in 134 million housing units and more than 270,000 group quarters (such as prisons, dormitories, and nursing homes). In that same year, the U.S. Census Bureau will endeavor to count every single one of those people once and only once. Called the “decennial census,” this is the largest peacetime activity undertaken by the federal government. To accomplish this task, the Census Bureau will hire 1.4 million temporary workers in nearly 500 local offices to count a population that resides over more than 3.5 million square miles of land mass.

Planning and executing the 2010 decennial census will take more than 14 years and will involve 44 interrelated operations with more than 9,000 tasks. To accomplish this feat, the Census Bureau relies on a robust project management methodology that is built around the following key components:

 

Chapter 13 - Aligning Federal and Project Planning Cycles: Untangling the Knot

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The ability to formulate business strategy that is effective and distinct from tactical strategy and to move the organization successfully in a different direction is going to become the trademark of public sector managers and leaders in the 21st century!

—THOMAS G. KESSLER and PATRICIA KELLEY THE BUSINESS of GOVERNMENT: STRATEGY, IMPLEMENTATION, and RESULTS

Every federal agency must comply with external planning processes and requirements. Mandated planning and reporting cycles are important considerations for federal agencies as they define their priorities and structure their operations. Many agencies devote considerable resources to maintaining their planning and performance documentation. These efforts inform the project environment and play an important role in creating an environment conducive to project success.

Federal agencies, with few exceptions, maintain many layers of management across multiple separate organizations. This up-and-down and side-to-side complexity permeates the bureaucratic machine that is government, presenting unparalleled planning and operational challenges.

 

Chapter 14 - Implementing Knowledge Management Practices: Reusing the Wheel

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Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.

—ROGER C. SCHANK, cognitive scientist1

Over the decades, the space shuttle program has leveraged repeatable processes while implementing new technologies and materials. Today’s shuttle missions are very different from those of the 1980s in terms of technologies and types of missions, yet they still have to obey the laws of physics and gravity while launching and landing a shuttle. To accomplish these miracles of human ingenuity, NASA must mobilize massive amounts of knowledge for each flight—including design documents, operational procedures, safety plans, quality assurance methodologies, scientific research, and experimental mission-based logistics.

Consider the major tasks of the final mission to the Hubble telescope: building replacement and upgraded instrumentation for the telescope; blasting a space shuttle 220 miles into orbit; rendezvousing, retrieving, and fixing the Hubble telescope; relaunching the telescope; and landing the shuttle back on earth. Taken together, these tasks seem an impossible feat of imagination. But the highly competent teams at NASA routinely achieve such incredible feats, thanks in part to effective knowledge management. A shuttle flight itself generates many terabytes of data, added to those generated by the preparation and analysis carried out prior to flight. Such a knowledge-intensive environment provides an interesting example of the challenges associated with knowledge management (KM) in the federal project environment.

 

Chapter 15 - Understanding Project Performance Management: Uncovering Success Early

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In the social sectors, the critical question is not ‘how much money do we make per dollar of invested capital?’ but ‘how effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?’

—JIM COLLINS

GOOD to GREAT and the SOCIAL SECTORS

Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The main investigative committee in the House of Representatives, Oversight and Government Reform has jurisdiction to investigate any federal program, as well as any matter that has federal policy implications. Congressman Cummings is committed to eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in government. He works to ensure that government runs effectively and efficiently, using every taxpayer dollar responsibly. Cummings also sits on the House Subcommittees on Domestic Policy, the Federal Workforce, the Post Office, and the District of Columbia. As one who listens to a lot of testimony about federal expenditures, he understands the issues associated with managing project performance.

 

Chapter 16 - The Promise of Project Management in the Federal Government: Looking Ahead

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There is no quick road to project management maturity, but with perseverance and a thick skin, much can be done.

—ALLAN ROIT, ASSISTANT PMO DIRECTOR, FINANCIAL CRIMES ENFORCEMENT NETWORK, U.S. DEPARTMENT of the TREASURY

Among the things Americans expect, today more than ever, is effective government. Regardless of methods or tools, fundamental project management structures and individual skills are the key drivers to project success in the federal government. On a more macro level, the discipline of project management is a primary means of creating more effective government. What lies ahead for project management in the federal government?

The state of project management in the federal government varies from agency to agency. Yet, several trends are evident in the federal project management arena. While these trends do not represent the sum total of the future of project management in the federal government, they do indicate the direction project management is taking. Those on the front lines offer some insights and ideas for improving the discipline of project management across the federal government.

 

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