Project Management – Working with the Government Model

I had the opportunity last week to speak at the International Association of Commercial Administrators (IACA) about the aspects of managing projects within the government model — aspects that can be both exciting and frustrating. Preparing for the speech gave me the opportunity (and excuse) to really think about the unique features of the government as customer, sponsor, and manager and to create my own list of cautions and tips.

Characteristics of a Government project:

  • Government projects are driven by “law”
  • Government projects use stakeholders (taxpayer) money–so funding sources have many masters whose opinions and needs change quickly
  • Contract and funding rules must be followed—this is not a gentleman’s agreement
  • Specific deliverables, artifacts and products must be produced
  • Environmental / political factors can dramatically impact project management and processes
  • A standard project lifecycle is required and needed

Top failure points for Government projects

  • Schedule
    • Failure to have a working schedule with estimates
    • Not managing the project to a set schedule with milestones, assignments, and dependencies
  • Resources
    • Lack of having a resource management process
    • Lack of tasks assigned to people
  • Communication
    • Poor communication between stakeholders, project staff, contractors, etc.
    • Lack of accurate status reporting
  • Scope
    • Not controlling requirements – no change management process
    • Failure to create a full Work Breakdown structure (WBS)
  • Experience
    • Not using history or prior organizational experience
    • Not getting the skilled/experienced staff to work on the project
  • Funding
    • Wrong contract funding type –
      fixed vs. T&M, 1 big project vs. several small ones
    • Payment not tied to deliverables or smaller milestones

There are also many process areas that are key for project managers on government projects.  Project Managers MUST Pay attention to these 5 key areas:

  • Scope management
  • Schedule management
  • Resource management
  • Communication
  • Governance

I ended my session by sharing some sources and 6 questions to ask before you start a project:

  1. Is the contract vehicle and funding appropriate for what we are trying to accomplish?
  2. Do we fully understand the requirements and have we documented the scope?
  3. Does our project schedule have measurable milestones, assignments of tasks, and links between dependent work efforts?
  4. Do you have a communications plan that will facilitate effective communications?
  5. Have we identified the correct resources, both internal and external to achieve success?  Do the resources have assignments in the project plan?
  6. Do we have a governance structure for the project that ensures accountability, reporting, traceability and can it be audited against?

Essential Resources for Government Contractors
Government extension to the PMBOK
Public-Sector Project Management
PMI’s Government Special Interest Group

So, what are your tips regarding managing projects in a government model?  Please share other tips and experiences via comments.

2 Responses to “Project Management – Working with the Government Model”

  1. Lior Sion Says:

    Hi Bruce,

    thanks for the great post. I’m wondering how do you see the importance of the tools chosen for the pm in regards to chance of success..

    I guess that you can always say a tool is just useful when it helps you reach the 6 points above – but if that’s the case, wouldn’t choosing the right tool be easier and faster and then you’re “forced” to work correctly?

  2. Thomas Says:

    Here’s a tip I find very useful when dealing with a regulatory body. Visit the regulatory body’s Web site and review online copies of the regulations or codes, and sign up to be notified when changes are made. Consider ordering a hard copy of the current regulations, so your team can reference a single common information source. Depending on the agency, you may also be able to find a list of recent actions. The results of past inspections, pending permit requests and recently completed projects are all good learning tools.

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