10 ways to improve program management

Perhaps it goes without saying that strong management is essential to driving successful project and program results. So is the transformation of ideas into action, and thinking into doing.

But sometimes that process is easier said than done. More than 60 percent of executives say their organizations struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation, according to a report from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Poor performance results can be costly to budgets. When performance isn’t up to par, PMI says organizations lose $109 million for every $1 billion they invested in the project.

In day three of our special report, The Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform, we examine best practices for program and project managers that will lead to better and stronger acquisitions.

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Federal News Radio spoke with executives from the Project Management Institute, Accenture Federal Services and Deloitte. Their answers are compiled in the tips below.

Align projects with organizational strategy

The paradigm shift which has begun to be embraced is identifying project and program managers that align to the specific needs dictated by the strategy of the organizations, rather than a singular project or program at the time. Technical project management, strategic and business management and leadership skills should align to the needs of the overall business plan or government policy focus. — Jordon Sims, Director of Organization Relations and Programs, Project Management Institute

Manage broadly and dive deeply

Program managers need to bring a combination of drive, management discipline and critical thinking. They need to gain the tools to deliver and the skills to succeed — and then be held accountable for results. — John Goodman, Chief Operating Officer, Accenture Federal Services

Prioritize to avoid scattered behavior

Program managers (federal and commercial) are all too often distracted by changing priorities, which confuses sense of urgency at the expense of sense of importance. This confusion often breeds a reactionary mindset and scattered behaviors characterized by the “crises du jour.”

Program managers must astutely differentiate between circumstances that are game-changing and those that are simply noise in the system. While the former may have downstream implications to the program and merit a proactive response, the latter serves only to detract from program objectives. — Tim Young, Principal, Deloitte Digital

Courtesy: Project Management Institute

Find human capital using the “Talent Triangle”

Keeping in mind thee fundamental performance metrics — schedule, scope and budget — two-thirds of organizations globally experience the greatest difficulty in finding human capital with adequate technical project management skills.

However, more than 90 percent of organizations believe that technical project management skills and strategic and business management skills are teachable; therefore, they are likely to search for talent with leadership skills. Then, the remaining two sides of the triangle can be honed to fit the organization as needed through training. — Sims

Engage with suppliers to ensure their solutions meet agency missions

Program managers should engage early and openly with the supplier base to understand the breadth of available innovative ideas. They should also use an outcomes-based or objectives-based solicitation approach that enables suppliers to propose innovative solutions.

Finally, program managers should make sure that the acquisition process brings together a team of functional and acquisition executives, who can collectively develop an effective acquisition strategy and assess the potential of those innovative solutions in meeting agency objectives. — Goodman

Employ “best value” acquisitions whenever possible

The current process for the government’s acquisition of professional and technology services is not keeping pace with the speed of business or the rate of technology innovation in the private sector. One area where program managers can truly impact an agency’s performance is to steer away from “lowest price technically acceptable” strategies, except for true commodity buys, and otherwise employ “best value” acquisitions that assess both price and performance. This approach will enable the private sector to propose more innovative solutions that maximize business outcomes. — Goodman

Communicate challenges directly and honestly

It’s the professional courage, negotiation and relationship development attributes that are key for a successful program manager to navigate the challenges of managing to outcomes. Communicating challenges openly and working collaboratively to design solutions engenders loyalty among those executing programs.

When the program manager is focused on “getting it right” vs. “being right,” organizational change management gets addressed, and focus on the critical path gets clarified. The impact is the development of an invested, transparent and highly functional project team. — Young

Learn and leverage from the private sector

Resist the tendency to be siloed. Instead, establish a learning culture that drawing from experiences across the government project and program management community and from the private sector. Seek effective knowledge transfer across each of these sources to avoid the “business as usual” mindset. — Sims

Follow the example of a respected program manager

Emulate their soft skills on interpersonal communications, negotiation, calmness and team development. Many hard skills required of program managers are a commodity and can be taught over time. It is the soft skills that engender winning teams and produce successful and enduring results. — Young

Go back to basics

Identify the key components of a program life cycle, in core competency areas such as complexity, risk, requirements, change and resourcing, among others. In doing so, it is incumbent on the program manager to recognize they are not alone in the fight for success. Contributing stakeholders harmonize into a program delivered on time, on budget and in scope – and aligned with the organization’s big-picture goals and objectives. — Sims

More from the special report, Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform:

After decades of DoD acquisition reform, Congress has yet to tackle cultural issues

Treasury Acquisition Institute adjusts to reach more students

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