Jordon Sims is director of organization relations and programs for the Project Management Institute.
Government entities, perhaps unfairly, have a reputation of lagging behind their civilian counterparts in understanding the value of formalized project and program management practices. But many federal programs have actually achieved considerable success, and a number of government entities not traditionally associated with a perceived need or demand for project and program management capacity are realizing exceptional value from organizational project management (OPM) practices. This is truly a testament to the projectized world we live in for both the private and public sectors.
What government is discovering is how mature project management operations can increase the efficiency of federal projects and programs and save taxpayer dollars. This aligns with recent PMI research, which shows organizations implementing OPM activities achieve higher levels of project and program success.
One example is the Social Security Administration's Office of Systems, which responded to growing challenges, such as budget constraints, by strengthening its commitment to project management and advancing the skills of its program managers.
With support from leadership, SSA developed an effective training curriculum and nurtured a culture of communication. The Office of Systems instituted a career development program to produce highly skilled, well-trained and qualified program managers. The success of these practices is highlighted in a recent PMI case study.
The SSA formalized its development process so employees were eligible for project management certifications for individuals managing large IT-projects. These are primarily the Project Management Professional credential and the Federal Acquisition Certification for Project/Program Managers.
SSA was able to secure the necessary training resources throughout a period of volatility in federal budgeting, because it had garnered executive support. The long-term focus on maintaining a talent development culture, from senior directors to junior program managers, goes against the prescriptive to cut training, which is all-too common in a resource-challenged environment. As a result, SSA is realizing the benefits of its investment not only with a more motivated and trained workforce, but also through its success in meeting budget and schedule targets as well as business intent.
A similar example of success is within the Federal Aviation Administration's National Airspace System, which transformed its air traffic control capabilities through effective project management. One of the largest public works projects in U.S. aviation history, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) improves air traffic control while meeting cost and schedule expectations. FAA accomplished this by using proven practices in project and program management.
ADS-B, which moves from ground-based radar to satellite, represents a major leap in air traffic control technology and safety. A program of unprecedented magnitude in budget, scope and duration, with multiple public and private partners and a budget that surpassed US$1 billion, the success of the ADS-B program sheds light on the effectiveness of disciplined project and program management.
This FAA example shows the key building blocks of program success. It outlines how to address the challenges and solutions associated with a complex program involving multiple stakeholders, a labyrinth of government policies, and often competing interests across the United States and 20 European countries. The project and program practices established by the Program Office at the outset enabled FAA to meet lofty goals, achieving 11 of 16 key milestones. Furthermore, the success of the ADS-B program changed the way air traffic is managed in the National Airspace System.
Here again, a PMI case study provides a vivid roadmap of how project and program practices and methodologies, together with strong leadership and effective communication, drive success.
In 2009, the Secretary of the Interior and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs established a high priority performance goal to reduce violent crime by a combined 5 percent within 24 months on targeted tribal reservations with high crime rates. According to the Crime Reduction Best Practices Handbook, the combined crime rate on these reservations was not only reduced by 35 percent, surpassing the objective seven-fold, but the objectives were also accomplished several months early and without exceeding the $5 million budget.
Those involved in this project, especially among those with formal training and experience, agree that project and program management played a significant role in this success. Although the training and experience were concentrated at the top, the project's creators and leaders were able to apply key project management principles to areas they saw most lacking, such as analytics, team building and strategizing. What makes this case of project and program management success that much more interesting—and worthy of mention—is the majority of individuals involved were not even aware that they were practicing project and program management.
Regardless of an organization's industry or mission, project management is the value driver that helps organizations get the most out of their performance. We see again and again that government agencies are often on the leading edge of leveraging OPM to achieve desired success but go unnoticed. All government agencies have the same opportunity to maximize overall efficiency, regardless of their ability to fit the conventional mold of delivering on policy via projects and programs.