Paths for Program Managers

Last month, the Office of Personnel Management created a career path for program managers in charge of federal information technology projects, a major step in achieving the goals of federal CIO Vivek Kundra's 25-point implementation plan for reforming federal IT. And according to one expert, establishing the career path could mean great success for agencies in executing their IT projects and programs.

Craig Killough, vice president of organization markets at the Project Management Institute, pointed to recent research by PMI that found that organizations that support the development of program management talent through certification and career management do better than those that don't.

For example, PMI's most recent "Pulse of the Profession" report found that organizations that standardize project management experience an average of 28 percent more projects meeting their intended goals. Low-performing organizations, however, risk 72 percent of their project budgets on efforts that fail to meet objectives, while high-performing organizations risk only 8 percent, the study found.

"The establishment of this new job classification is a validation that program management requires specific skills and knowledge, and of the importance that program managers play in the successful implementation and delivery of IT programs and projects," Killough said. "Program management across the board, not just in IT, is receiving a great deal more attention, and the fact that this is suddenly high-profile in government IT provides an opportunity for agencies through this new job classification to build talent."

Still, Killough identified some areas where government has some work to do in program management, particularly as new austerity measures and calls for more transparency come into play. Managers, for example, do not fully understand the role of program and project managers, meaning they may identify people to manage programs who are not qualified, he said. "That creates this problem that we call the accidental program manager," Killough said. "I think the next major step is to make sure that management understands the role and what it takes."

A shortage of qualified program and project management talent, due in large part to retiring Baby Boomers, also means the government will have to beef up the recruitment and retention of this critical segment of the workforce, Killough added.

Killough said the next step for government is building training programs to help federal program and project managers build up and fine-tune their skills. "The 25-point IT plan recognizes that having a cadre of senior program managers is critical to ensuring these IT programs are meeting the mission, that career paths are important, and that training and experience are critical," he says. "Now, the wheels are going to start to turn to identify training options and other specific competencies required."

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