Legislation passed in December 2016 requires federal agencies to develop greater project and program management capacity. A NAPA Study Panel prepared a report in 2015 on improving project and program management in federal agencies, which informed the development of that legislation.
Now that the legislation has passed, how will it be implemented? OMB is assessing the “lay of the land” and what elements need to be considered to effectively implement this legislation in a way that it is not just another compliance exercise. The panel discussed issues such as:
How can the implementation of this legislation be framed in order to actually help program managers better deliver results? How will these legislative requirements fit into the broader framework of related existing requirements around performance management, contract management, enterprise risk management, IT management, etc.?
Dan Chenok, IBM Center for The Business of Government (member of NAPA Report Study Panel)
Dustin Brown, Office of Performance and Personnel Management, OMB
Adam Lipton, Office of Performance and Personnel Management, OMB
Christopher Rahaim, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, OMB
Greg Giddens, Department of Veterans Affairs (current federal executive program manager)
Jim Williams, Schambach & Williams Consulting (former federal executive program manager)
The 2015 NAPA report discussed the distinctions between “program” and “project” management. It posited that they lie on a continuum, where “projects” have a clear beginning, middle, and end (such as a road construction project) and that “programs” are often a longer term collection of projects (such as the Apollo Moon program).
The authors note that capital-intensive agencies, such as Defense, Energy, and NASA, have a tradition of program and project management but that this is not a widespread culture or skill set across other agencies, many of which undertake capital-intensive initiatives such as VA hospital construction and DHS initiatives.
The new law requires OMB and federal agencies to:
The goal is to integrate these new requirements with existing statutory and administrative management requirements already in place and not create a new, separate stovepipe of requirements for this new law, off to the side.
One of the interesting first challenges will be providing definitions of what constitutes a “program,” and what is “program management,” since the new law does not include definitions. However, other laws do have such definition for “program,” but not in the same context as envisioned in this law.
Another challenge in drafting the guidance is the variety of agencies with different needs and missions. How do you draft governmentwide standards, yet allow agency-level flexibility? If the standards are too specific, agencies will ignore them and this will result in a check-box compliance exercise.
A third challenge will be connecting program managers with other parts of the broader management system. Program management has traditionally been treated as an acquisition function, when in fact it is much broader role, involving: human resources, IT, financial management, mission-delivery functions, potentially other agencies, contractors, the media, and even Congress. The guidance needs to encompass the contributions of these different functions as well, and not be directed solely to program managers.
The key job of a program manager is to manage not just the project but the changes that affect the broader organization that accompany any major program or project. In every agency, you need the right culture and the right elements when undertaking major programs. You need both tech and soft skills to be successful. The key elements of this approach include: