In a Dizzy Work Climate, Program Management Plays Vital Role

In a Dizzy Work Climate, Program Management Plays Vital Role<@VM>NASA<@VM>Northrop Grumman Corp.<@VM>Delving Deeper Into Program and Project Management

By John Makulowich

Among the swirling sands bruising the foundation of public- and private-sector business practices, urged on by the Internet and propelled by the invasion of e-everything, there remains one constant: program management.

Guiding the efforts of professionals and tradespeople in diverse industries from building construction to software engineering, program or project management is analogous to a tent peg in a desert storm or a life raft on a sinking ship. Without it, tasks seem haphazard, plans easily go astray, morale is undermined, projects never reach a satisfactory conclusion and programs fall under the guillotine of reorganization.

One piece of evidence for project management's importance can be found on the World Wide Web site of the Project Management Institute (PMI) of Newtown Square, Pa. There, free for the download, is their 182-page book in PDF, "The Project Management Body of Knowledge," or the "PMBOK Guide," as it is known among its members.

According to the organization, which has more than 55,000 project management professional members worldwide, the book's primary purpose is to identify and describe the subset of PMBOK: the knowledge and practices that can be applied to most projects, most of the time.

For the institute, in performing work, organizations pursue either projects or operations. The difference is that operations are ongoing and repetitive, while projects are temporary and unique. Thus, the generally accepted definition of project winds up as "a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service."

Project management becomes the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities. The purpose is to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project, according to the institute. In this vein, PMI sees a program as a group of projects managed in coordination. The goal is to achieve benefits unavailable from managing the projects individually.

PMI's definition of a project ranges across the business frontier. Included in its list are efforts such as developing a new product or service, designing a new transportation vehicle, constructing a building or facility, running a campaign for political office or developing or acquiring a new or modified information system.

Just how big is project management in the IT arena? It is a major focus, according to Frank Tusa, director of business development for Syntel Inc. of Troy, Mich., a systems integrator serving both governments and companies worldwide.

With more than 1,900 employees in Asia, Europe and North America, Syntel was one of the first U.S. firms to launch a global delivery model in 1992. Technical teams work from networked facilities in different time zones, allowing the company to execute a virtual 24-hour workday to provide support for key software applications year round. The company's primary expertise is in financial services and insurance, manufacturing, retail, telecommunications and transportation.

Tusa said the potential for project failure is high, citing that corporate America spends more than $275 billion annually on about 200,000 application software development projects.

"In many, if not most, cases, it is caused by the absence of a skilled project management team," he said.

His company's approach to project management is enterprisewide planning, control and implementation with proven tracking tools that create an understanding of the client's digital ecosystem and business objectives, he said.

The goal is to create business value for the client by improving customer service or delivering vital information to the executive staff.

"The foundation for effective project management is thorough planning, execution and control of all resources, tasks and activities needed to complete the project," Tusa said. "In the final analysis, project management is about people and process, how work is being performed."

Edward Hoffman

NASA is taking program and project management to a different level. In its "Project Management Development Process Handbook," available on the Web, the space agency shifts from a more restrictive approach with program management to new guidelines, called 7120.5A.

What is different: The move from a prescriptive to a permissive approach, from rigid to an emphasis on tailoring to context, from theoretical to functional, from limited applications to broad applications, and from no discussion on the need for professional development to an emphasis on it.

At the center of this change is Edward Hoffman, director of the Academy of Program and Project Leadership. He is responsible for developing program and project leaders and teams within NASA. That includes developing a comprehensive program and project management training curriculum, consulting services for project management teams, lessons learned, knowledge capture and research and special studies on program and project management.

Hoffman works both within NASA and with leaders of industry, academia and other government agencies. He said that, historically, people viewed program and project management as activities or processes for an aerospace community, the military or construction. With the change in the world brought about by the Internet, as well as federal legislation that calls on government staffs to produce better, faster and more cheaply, project management is a tool finding widespread use.

According to Hoffman, a project is a defined, time-limited activity with clearly established objectives and boundaries executed to gain knowledge, create a capability or provide a service as part of an overall program.

On the other side, managing a program covers a related series of undertakings that continue over a period of time, which are designed to pursue or are in support of a focused scientific or technical goal. These activities are characterized by the design, development and operations of systems, relatively high funding levels, firm schedules and technical or scientific objectives.

"My bias is that, really, what [program management] is about is, first of all, working with a team in the most effective way possible to satisfy the customer. It cuts across all different organizations," Hoffman said.

Thus, the main focus of program management is not just the requirements, not just the risk management, not just the breakdown of work structures. Those are tools to help a team become effective in doing its job. For Hoffman, program management is the disciplined process for helping a team achieve success.

In explaining the rise of interest in program management, Hoffman noted the environmental changes at work in public and private organizations. Up until the last 10 years, the external business environment was much more stable, operating with a slower pace of change. When a company introduced a product, one could expect it to remain on the market for a reasonable period of time, regardless of whether it was a training program or a piece of information technology.

Now, with worldwide reach and time to market as critical variables in business strategy, the environment is more dynamic. And many organizations are too large or too slow to make the sudden turns needed to be competitive and successful.

"In the project mode, you are basically getting teams of individuals together focused on a specific product or service that they need to produce, and on a specific customer that they need to work for," Hoffman said. "It lends itself to a dynamic environment, which is what we are going through."

Beyond project management issues are the evolving role of the individuals who make up the work teams. Here, Hoffman envisioned a dramatically changing perspective of the person and his or her worth on the team and for the organization.

Referring to key business and social thinkers such as Peter Drucker, Alvin Toeffler and Tom Peters and the points they have been making over the last 15 years, Hoffman noted that society now is at the point where individuals need to have a portable portfolio of their talents and successes.

"As important as that, individuals must have a focus on questions such as: How do I stay relevant? How do I stay upstanding? How do I keep reinventing myself so that I have the skills and the competencies that my organization or any other organization would want?" Hoffman said. "To me, the era of work in this organization for 30 years is over. It's long gone. Today, it is the issue of: Can I maintain the skills and the excitement and the passion to be really vital to someone?"

And one key variable that no one really is talking about is passion, the individual who enjoys what he or she is doing. It comes through in their eyes, how they relate with other people and from the fact that they have ideas and want to keep getting better and growing. Hoffman said these kinds of people are geared for this environment because of the need to constantly grow and adapt.

Ken deLaski

One example of the attitude and situation of project managers that Hoffman describes can be seen in the case of James Marshall, a project manager at Northrop Grumman Corp. in Dallas.

Marshall realized about four years ago, with both corporations and government emphasizing downsizing and cost reduction, that there would be a need to enhance his skills. He is now enrolled at Cal Tech and the University of California at Los Angeles for courses on project management. He also turned to the Internet and Web for help.

"Downsizing forced me to go outside and look for knowledge cells and bodies of knowledge," Marshall said. "One site I found was PM Boulevard, and I offered to beta test their site."

Marshall was referring to a Web site, launched by Robbins-Gioia Inc., a program management services company in Alexandria, Va., as a comprehensive knowledge portal for program management ( The site includes access to a knowledge center, one-on-one consulting, online training, a virtual project management office and an "ask the expert" section.

The site potentially could complement traditional consulting and training by delivering new ideas and creative solutions through networking with peers and customized online consulting.

Marshall said he offered recommendations on improving the Web site because it would serve him better as a tool in the areas of aerospace and defense. The "ask the expert" section proved valuable in helping him work on problems and issues, such as the team-building process.

He also found the site valuable in addressing risk and the ways of tasking risk on a project, or helping to categorize risk into classes such as cost, schedule, department, resource and unexpected events like the conflict in Kosovo.

"The portal is the way of the future. The sky is the limit. There is nothing in the way to stop it," Marshall said. "I recently read that computer technology is growing on a 7-to-1 year ratio. The Web itself is growing by a 20-to-1 ratio."

The change in project management is reflected in the way Marshall now works. As he noted, many corporate proposals are done in virtual worlds over the Internet, even using the virtual reality modeling language of 3-D space.

Marshall sees a time in the near future when individuals will be able to manage programs from home, able to communicate through small organizations instead of from buildings with 15,000 people.

"You will see more small sectors worldwide that will telecommunicate or hold a Web meeting between sectors, hold a Net-meeting and videoconference and exchange documentation in real time," Marshall said.

The promise of cost savings, the ability to meet in real time and the access to unlimited resources worldwide will drive the virtual portals. At least, that is the hope of Ken deLaski, president and chief executive officer of Deltek Systems Inc., McLean, Va., and the owner of My, or

The site allows companies to conduct e-business with customers as a secure Web portal to communicate key project, schedule, resource and financial data in an open forum. The promise is increased effectiveness, efficiency and client satisfaction. integrates with Project Workplace, Deltek's Web-enabled front-office application suite for project businesses. This integration offers a customer relationship and project management package for employees, customers and subcontractors that can be viewed anytime, anywhere, through an Internet connection.

"The goal of the solution is to keep the customer involved," deLaski said. "In so many cases, the contractor gets the specs and does their thing. And the agency does not know what is going on. Our solutions enable the customer to get online, real-time access to the project data without having to request offline special reports."

Given the Internet, the mind-set of program and project management clearly is changing. The service companies want more and deeper access to what is happening in the project, especially in industries such as building construction and architecture. "A Guide to the Project Management
Body of Knowledge"
(also known as the "PMBOK Guide")

Published in 1996 by the Project Management Institute, this 182-page book (613KB) is available for free in PDF. To download, you must complete an online form.

American Society for Quality

This is a group of individual and organizational members dedicated to the ongoing development, advancement and promotion of quality concepts, principles and techniques.

Directory of Project Management Resources

A directory of Web sites of special interest
to project management practitioners.

Government Management Reform Act of 1994

An act to provide more efficient and responsive government.

Government Performance And Results Act of 1993

Public Law 103-62, sponsored by Sen. William Roth Jr., R-Del., passed Aug. 3, 1993.

Graduate School, USDA

The school offers courses in project management for federal staff. Although associated with the Department of Agriculture, the school is self-sustaining and receives no federal funds. The only source of income is tuition and fees. Billing itself as "the government's trainer," last year it enrolled more than 150,000 students.

NASA Academy of Program/Project Leadership

The NASA Web site for developing program and project management expertise as well as a resource for learning and exchanging information.

NASA Project Management Development Process Handbook

The book provides information to aid career development planning for members of the project management community.

"NASA Strategic Management Handbook"

NASA procedures and guidelines 1000.2, October 1996.

Project Management Institute

Founded in 1969, PMI is a leading non-profit association for project management professionals, with more than 55,000 members worldwide. PMI establishes standards and provides seminars, educational programs and professional certification.

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