OFPP project management memo doesn’t do enough for standardization

Jordon Sims, director of Organization Relations and Programs for the Project Management Institute, contends OFPP needs to look at existing pockets of excellence...

Commentary by Jordon Sims
Director of Organization Relations and Programs
The Project Management Institute

Jordon Sims, director of Organization Relations and Programs, Project Management Institute

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s (OFPP) recently released memorandum and directive applies the Federal Acquisition Certification (FAC) requirements to all federal civilian program and project managers. Under the prior OFPP memorandum issued in April 2007, these requirements only applied to program managers “assigned to programs considered major acquisitions.”

While OFPP should be commended for its renewed effort to improve the quality, efficiency and accountability of project/program/portfolio management (PPPM), several key gaps in the government’s ability to efficiently manage projects and programs remain. In a recovering economy with limited resources, the government simply can’t afford to waste money or further erode the trust of constituents due to scarce tax dollars placed at risk.

According to Project Management Institute’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession: Government, an average of $148 million is at risk for every $1 billion invested in government agency programs around the globe — a statistic that grossly lags behind private industry surveys across the same performance metrics.

With so much at stake, agencies have little room for error in implementing and executing their critical programs. Despite the potential for such significant loss, there remains a distinct lack of PPPM standardization across government entities. Without clear authority within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to oversee the quality of project and program management practices, it is rather naïve to assume that agencies will effectively adopt and implement such practices without a leading model in place to serve as a replicable example.

OFPP will surely continue to face a number of challenges as agencies interpret and implement the revisions to the FAC for program and project managers.

First, agencies must overcome the inherent inertia of existing policies and resistance to change that routinely exists.

Second, OFPP must dispel the notion that successful implementation is a herculean and highly bureaucratic undertaking. Indeed, a few individuals making up a Project Management Office (PMO) within each agency that are properly trained and certified in effective PPPM can have a staggering positive impact on the largest of organizations. A one-size-fits-all approach will, in all likelihood, not be suitable for so many agencies with disparate functions within the government. For example, evaluation and re-certification of program and project managers (P/PM) in the information technology field will differ greatly from those in construction, utilities or infrastructure, and must be addressed on an agency-by-agency basis. However, standardized best practices will vastly out-perform temporary solutions that are adopted in reaction to a stinging project failure.

Although much work remains to be done in achieving the goals set forth in OFPP’s memorandum, real progress continues to be made by high-profile agencies that PMI identifies as “pockets of excellence.”

For example, known as a groundbreaking pioneer in program practices, NASA created its Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL) in 1998 as an agencywide resource for technical workforce development, reporting to the already established Office of the Chief Engineer (PMO). This created a structure for the development of a strategy for individual and team training that would support project and program success on an enterprise level.

As another example, the Department of Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA) has actively addressed the need for P/PM efficiency and standardization since its inception in 2008. Through its Project Management Improvement Program (PMIP), VAAA has succeeded in its mission to enhance the existing skill sets of its acquisition workforce, establish business acumen, create alignment of technical and process- oriented acquisition management procedures, and reinforce the value of enterprise- wide collaboration during project execution. The ultimate result is more projects completed in scope and on budget with millions of dollars in savings.

With confidence in government at an all-time low, and numbness to project/program failure at an all-time high, it is time to restore the all-too-often absent success story within government project management to the spotlight. PMI stands ready to assist the administration, both in terms of executive directive implementation and bipartisan legislation to support the further advancement of government P/PM success.

Jordon Sims is the director of Organization Relations and Programs for the Project Management Institute (PMI).

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