The Role of Program Management in the Federal Government

The Facts

The Project Management Institute® defines program management as a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them as individual projects. A program manager is the person authorized by the performing organization to lead the team or teams responsible for achieving program objectives.

What may come as a surprise is that program management knowledge is not just for your program and project managers. Non-project and program managers working in the Federal Government can benefit greatly from understanding program management basics.

The Challenges

When it comes to implementing program management best practices, there are unique challenges that your organization is likely to face. According to a 2015 NAPA whitepaper, Improving Program Management in the Federal Government, Federal organizations face five main challenges when implementing program management principles:

  1. Laws and policies have been developed over time to address specific problems and do not holistically address the challenges of program management.
  2. Program management is not consistently recognized as a management discipline that is essential to government performance, success, and results.
  3. Agency executives and stakeholders do not clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.
  4. There is no consistency across the government in the training and development of program managers.
  5. Program managers lack a professional community within the Federal Government that can provide support and a voice on issues affecting the development of program management.

Overcoming Challenges

In December 2016, the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act of 2015 (PMIAA) was signed into law. It is being implemented in three stages, the first being “Coordinated governance, talent management, and pilot of non-IT major acquisitions.” The easiest way for your organization to address this phase and overcome many of the previously mentioned challenges is through talent management.

By bringing proven program and project management practices to the table through hiring and reskilling of current staff, your organization can start tackling challenges to become more efficient. In order to facilitate this process, every member of your team must:

  • Understand terminology. Individuals can’t successfully work in a system that they don’t understand and can’t navigate.
  • Understand programs vs. projects. Programs create outcomes, projects deliver outputs. If your team doesn’t understand how projects and programs come together and their respective roles within that context, then they won’t be able to function as effective team members.
  • Know how to see the whole picture. Without knowledge of project management, team members may lack the ability to realize task dependencies from project to project. This can result in an inability to effectively predict roadblocks to schedules which can not only crash a project, but a program as well.
  • Communicate. Understanding project management increases communication. Everyone must know and understand their roles and how their responsibilities impact the team. This ensures that each individual communicates the right information to the right people at the right time.

The stakes are high when it comes to efficiently managing a government program. Without properly trained project managers and a knowledgeable team, your organization will struggle to:

  • Display heightened transparency and governance.
  • Connect projects to a business strategy which ensures that projects support business objectives and intent.
  • Save money. Implementing program management best practices can reduce government agencies’ costs by 20–30%.
  • Manage money. Lack of program management best practice utilization puts approximately $148 million out of every $1 billion at risk for government organizations.

Take a moment to think about these last two statistics. Lack of knowledge and implementation of program management best practices could cost your agency millions of dollars. Don’t let another moment pass before taking the steps required to ensure your workforce is equipped with the program management knowledge they need to ensure mission success!

Written by:
Melanie Tague
Project & Program Management
Media Type:

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