The federal government could improve its project and program management capabilities if it pursued a more systematic approach backed by law. That’s the finding of a new report written by the National Academy of Public Administration and sponsored by the Project Management Institute.

Among the challenges emphasized in “Improving Program Management in the Federal Government” are these:

  • Laws and policies address specific problems without holistically tackling the challenges inherent in large-scale complex change initiatives;
  • Government agencies don’t recognize program management as a discipline “essential” to government performance, success and results; and
  • Nor do agency leaders or staff “clearly understand” roles or responsibilities.

According to the report’s authors, if government were to take a more systematic approach, backed up by the authority of law, they’d achieve more rapid and consistent development of project and program management capabilities.

The report offered seven conditions it believes are important to institutionalize program management discipline across the federal government:

  1. 1. Taking an integrated approach to the development of government-wide program management policy and oversight of agency implementation;
  2. Pursuing agency leadership support for program management;
  3. Integrating program management into strategic planning, goal-setting and performance improvement processes;
  4. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities for agency executives and stakeholders in program management processes;
  5. Implementing a strong, senior-level program management organization in agencies;
  6. Launching a government-wide job series for program managers that spans business functions with a career path that extends into senior career executive management ranks; and
  7. Building an organization to bring together senior program management officials from across the government to advise on government-wide policy, share leading practices and oversee development of expert program management resources.

“The panel believes that institutionalizing the discipline of program management across the federal government should be a top priority,” the report concluded. “There is no guarantee of success in large-scale, complex change initiatives. However if program management is undertaken by well-trained, experienced professionals within a supportive infrastructure, based upon proven standards and practices, we believe that success will be more consistently achieved.”

The report is freely available on the National Academy of Public Administration website.