The numbers are in and the news is positive. For the first time in five years, data shows that across industry sectors, the percentage of projects meeting original goals and being completed within budget has improved. According to the 2017 Pulse of the Profession: Success Rates Rise: Transforming the High Cost of Low Performance, organizations are wasting 20 percent less money compared to a year ago – an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested. That number is the lowest we have seen since PMI began tracking this metric in 2006.

A look at the results by sector shows that the government scored mixed results. On the plus side, there is a decline in the dollars wasted for every billion invested, from last year’s $101 million to this year’s $97 million. It’s a step in the right direction.

But despite this encouraging indicator, there are other aspects of effective project and program management where the government sector lags behind the study’s overall averages:

  • Talent management: Only 30 percent of government organizations have a defined career path for project or program managers (which is significantly below the average of 43 percent) and just 37 percent have a formal knowledge transfer process in place (nine percentage points below average.)
  • Processes and project management capabilities: 46 percent across all sectors have a formal process to mature existing project management practices; government organizations average 37 percent. Thirty-nine percent of all organizations studied have high project management maturity, while only 30 percent of government organizations share that level of maturity, a gap of nine percentage points.
  • Cultural and organizational capabilities: Government organizations come out ten percentage points behind on high organization agility (18 percent versus 28 percent) and rank lower on a metric that PMI places increasing emphasis on: benefits realization maturity. The global total is 31 percent; for the government sector, it is not quite 1 in 4, at 23 percent.

For the first time, PMI has included benefits realization maturity in the metrics that go into how we determine project success. That’s because in today’s competitive, constantly disrupted business environment, it’s no longer enough to say a successful project is one that didn’t expand beyond scope, time and cost goals. It also has to deliver and impact what it set out to do – in other words, benefits realization.

This broader and more strategic definition of success has led PMI to the identification of two new performance levels, champions and underperformers. Here again the government sector achieves mixed results:

  • Champions are organizations that complete 80 percent or more of projects on time and on budget, meet original goals and business intent, and have high benefits realization maturity. Seven percent of organizations in the study are considered champions, and the government ranked similarly at 5 percent.
  • Underperformers, on the other hand, complete 60 percent or fewer on time and on budget, meet original goals and business intent, and have low benefits realization maturity. Across all industries studied, 12 percent are underperformers; within government organizations, that number rises to 17 percent.

What does it mean that the government lags behind cross-industry averages in areas like talent management, project management maturity and agility? Or that there are nearly 50 percent more underperformers in government than in the group of industries as a whole?

This data indicates that the government has more opportunity to improve. As I wrote previously in a commentaryon the Professional Service Council’s

Agenda for the Next President

, the federal government is in a state of change. If the new administration wants to modernize service delivery, improve government operations, build a better engagement model, and develop the workforce of the future, it will need to keep upping its game in project and program management as means of change and transformation.

Fortunately, with the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 (PMIAA), now signedinto law (PL 114-264), government agencies will have support for maturing their project management capabilities. PMIAA will institutionalize everything from defined career paths and executive sponsorship to a standards-based program management policy that spans the entire federal government if fully embraced and implemented.

The federal government will always have to juggle limited resources with expanding demands. The key to keeping this juggle under control while still realizing benefits is project and program management.

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