Will Federal Program Manager Career Track Keep IT Projects on the Rails?

Susan Hall
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Those taking the new positions in created federal government, IT program manager, certainly have their work cut out for them as federal IT projects continue to come in late and over budget.


The U.S. Army's SAP software project provides the latest example. Computerworld reports that auditors say the Army expects to spend $2.4 billion on the project, though it has yet to identify all the costs associated with it - and has not implemented seven of 16 recommendations to fix problems identified in a 2008 report. There already have been $53 million in cost overruns.


The article quotes Michael Krigsman, a specialist in project failures, saying the departure of federal CIO Vivek Kundra "can only make things worse," adding:

Unfortunately, it's hard to be hopeful about the future of successful IT in the government.

Add to that budget cuts for federal government efforts to better manage projects. For instance, though a House subcommittee voted to reinstate a portion of the budget for the General Services Administration's Electronic Government Fund from $8 million to $13 million, that's just over half of its appropriation for 2010, reports Federal Computer Week. The E-Gov fund handles transparency programs including Data.gov, Performance.gov and the Federal IT Dashboard, sites that detail government spending.


As my colleague Ann All suggested, perhaps the bureaucracy of effecting change in federal government was just too much for Kundra.


This nextgov.com article, however, finds a bright spot in the creation of the IT program manager career track. These folks are expected to be highly paid senior executives with broad authority to manage major technology development initiatives. The article quotes Craig Killough, a vice president at the Project Management Institute, saying:

The establishment of this new job classification is a validation that program management requires specific skills and knowledge, and of the importance that program managers play in the successful implementation and delivery of IT programs and projects. Program management across the board, not just in IT, is receiving a great deal more attention, and the fact that this is suddenly high-profile in government IT provides an opportunity for agencies through this new job classification to build talent.

Killough said managers don't always fully understand the role and, with the expected retirement of many baby boomers from government, this creates increasing importance on recruiting talent and making sure they are fully trained. (The professional organization offers various project management certifications, including that for program managers.)


He also points to findings from the organization's most recent "Pulse of the Profession" report, a survey of more than 1,000 professionals around the world. Among them: Organizations with standardized project management across the enterprise experience meet their goals on an average of 28 percent more projects. Those with widespread standardization are more than twice as likely over the past two years to have seen an increase in the number of projects that met goals.


Said Killough:

The 25-point IT plan recognizes that having a cadre of senior program managers is critical to ensuring these IT programs are meeting the mission, that career paths are important, and that training and experience are critical. Now, the wheels are going to start to turn to identify training options and other specific competencies required.

At IT Business Edge, our IT Downloads center contains a wealth of information on a variety of topics, but we, too, have noticed a thirst for knowledge about better project management, with some of those documents among the most popular.

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