By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Do program managers belong in program offices, or in IT shops?"

I was involved in a conversation today about professionalizing IT program management in government. One sound bite really caught my attention: One participant reported speaking with the program manager for a multi-hundred-million-dollar IT system who reported he was also managing seven other efforts. All too often, this core competency for government has gotten real short-shrift. Mark Forman pushed this issue when he ran IT program management from the Office of Management and Budget at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration.

And now, as a tight budgetary environment has lowered tolerance for failed IT projects, the issue might come to the forefront again. There seems to be interest in the administration in emphasizing this issue, in the context of the ongoing reviews of large IT projects in trouble.

A serious investment in developing program management as a profession would have a side benefit. The government, of course, is having trouble recruiting talented young people into its IT workforce. A program management track would likely be attractive to many young people because it would involve them with a substantive program mission, provide management training and offer an opportunity to keep working on their technical skills, not as a worker bee but as a manager.

I would love to hear suggestions from readers about how to improve and revitalize the IT program management function. Where should it be located -- in IT shops or in user shops (when the users are not the IT shop)? What kind of training do people need, and how should it be provided? What skills do these managers need? How can we up the importance of this function in the government?

Posted by Steve Kelman on Oct 07, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Reader Comments

Sat, Oct 9, 2010 John Kamensky Washington, DC

Hi Steve - I agree, program management should be linked to the program, but I thought it was currently linked to the acquisition system, not the IT system! The Federal Acquisition Institute currently runs a certification program for program/project managers . . . and while it's good that such a program exists, nesting it as a subset of the acquisition system probably isn't the best home -- sends the wrong signal that the actual program owners don't need to care because "acquisition will take care of it," and we can see how well that seems to work!

Fri, Oct 8, 2010

The same day that this was published, IBM issued a paper in which they claim that the government could save substantial money by going in the opposite direction and consolidating IT (and other) operations. There seems to be a tug of war between those who believe in centralization and decentralizatoin. As a system user, I see many problems that appear to be the result of not having a focus on the system end user's needs and believe that your approach would improve the quality of the programs I use. Now I wonder if other support activities also operate more effectively if they reside within the program they support? If they do, is it worth the increased immediate outlay?

Fri, Oct 8, 2010 Kim C. U.S. Department of State

Steve: I recently posted to what I consider a related FCW blog "Should your agency be run more like a business?" (http://fcw.com/blogs/gov-careers/2010/09/should-your-agency-be-run-more-like-a-business.aspx?s=fcwdaily_041010) by Phil Piemonte. Here in the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs we're in the process of fully establishing an Office of the Comptroller, responsible not just for budget, but to also align dollars to planning and performance management. We hope to apply good business and management practices seen primarily in the private sector to our somewhat unique governmental role. Our services generate over $2 billion in revenue, and our Consular operations rely primarily on fees we charge for visas and passports. Much of our revenue also supports other USG and State programs. IMO, in order for Consular Affairs to be truly effective in managing the programs that both contribute to and use our revenue stream, we need to embrace program management as a common good practice. PMO functions here reside in our IT shop, but our business units who really "own" their operational programs need to understand program and project management terms, concepts, and tools. Too often program owners are relegated to "focus groups" run by consultants, with neither group empowered to make programmatic decisions, usually because the only "programs" that are well-defined are IT-enabled, and thus the business users view it as an IT project, not a business program.

Thu, Oct 7, 2010 VyrtuNet

Program management and Program Manager are often misinterpreted and/or misunderstood functions. Programs are effective when the organization needs to implement a major change and manage the change event effectively. Once the change implementation is complete, the program is closed. A business transformation initiative, such as a network integration as a result of a merger, is a good example of the effective use of program management. Another may be a corporate migration to cloud computing. Setting up a program for the sake of managing a set of related projects is not the purpose of program management unless the set of projects is related to a corporate change event.

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