New legislation highlights need for federal program management improvements

Program management is obviously essential for every agency within the federal government. However, there's no denying that countless departments struggle in this capacity. While the government's reputation for inefficiency and overspending is often exaggerated, there is certainly some truth to such claims. 

Highlighting this issue, two members of the House of Representatives recently sponsored legislation specifically designed to reform federal program management efforts. Regardless of the fate of this bill, though, it's clear to see that agencies need to improve their business process management capabilities. Working with an experienced third-party solutions provider may be the ideal route for federal departments.

"The bill would create formal career paths for program managers within the federal government."

Standardization issues
As Federal Times reported, the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 would, if signed into law, create formal career paths for program managers within the federal government. At the same time, the Office of Management and Budget would be forced to develop and embrace standards, policies and guidelines for project and program management across the whole of the federal government. The OMB would also be tasked with conducting annual reviews of other agencies' performance in this regard to make sure the standards were being met. 

Mark Langley, president and CEO of the Project Management Institute, emphasized the value that establishing more stringent standards can offer for organizations' project management efforts.

"PMI's research shows that organizations that invest in formalizing program management practices, improve outcomes, accountability and efficiency," Langley said, according to Federal Times. "The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 will make significant improvements to program and project management policy in the U.S. government, and will help address existing issues in flexible, affordable way."

Langley added that government agencies are estimated to waste $119 million out of every $1 billion they spend due to underperforming projects, the source noted.

Organization matters
The importance of high-quality business process management at the federal effort was further emphasized in a separate Federal Times report by Jordon Sims. Sims, also a member of the PMI, argued that the government's performance would be improved dramatically by embracing more organized, rigorous approaches to project management. He pointed to a PMI study which found that government agencies may be able to reduce their costs by 20 to 30 percent by embracing such strategies.

Sims asserted that there are three key components to effective organizational project management: people, policy and process. In terms of people, the government must recruit and retain well-qualified managers who understand project management. Policy must reflect standardization and emphasize transparency and agility. Lastly, processes must account for the complexity inherent to many governmental projects. 

To see the best possible results, federal agencies must take all of these aspects into account as they revitalize and revamp their strategies and policies. 

"Project management failures are causing delays and other problems."

Difficult implementations
Some of the challenges inherent in improving project management at the federal level can be seen in the government's effort to implement the terms of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. As Government Executive reported, the Treasury Department is responsible for taking the lead in this effort, and while progress has been made, the department's inspector general recently determined that the project management failures are causing delays and other problems

According to the IG's report, the Treasury Department's shortcomings in this area were "due, in part, to the lack of definition surrounding the method of project management to be followed for each workstream," the source reported.

For the Treasury Department and other federal organizations, the key to overcoming such issues may be partnering with a third-party consulting firm with robust experience guiding governmental project management endeavors. Such a company can deliver not only expertise, but also an external perspective that can prove invaluable.