Project management skills still in short supply, CIO Council finds

A two-year-old survey just made public shows agencies are not making much progress in training and recruiting project managers.

Despite the Office of Management and Budget's efforts for more than five years to increase the number of federal project managers and improve their skills, most of this effort has gone for naught, according to a new assessment.

A CIO Council Information Technology Workforce Capability Assessment issued today on the organization's Web site found that the number of respondents who said they are project managers decreased by 3.4 percent since 2004, and their proficiency in the skills necessary has remained largely unchanged.

“While there are no large gaps for personnel performing [information technology]  project management functions extensively, specific competencies within the ITPM specialty area remain of concern, such as in capital planning and investment and in project management,” the survey stated. “The largest gaps for those performing ITPM extensively and moderately are in project management software, federal enterprise architecture and earned value management.”

The 2006 survey received responses from 31,759 civilian agency IT workers, which is about 40 percent of the targeted population. The CIO Council conducted similar surveys in 2003 and 2004. It took nearly two years to analyze and issue the results.

“My first reaction was holy cow,” said Norm Lorentz, vice president at the Council for Excellence in Government and a former OMB official. “There is concern about the currency of the report. If so it's important why take so long?”

Overall, the typical IT worker is between 51 and 55 years old, has been in government more than 21 years, is a General Schedule grade 12 or higher and will be eligible to retire in 11 to 20 years.

Although project management remained stagnant, OMB’s effort to improve the workforce’s IT security capabilities has made significant progress, the organization said. The survey found certification rates at some agencies almost doubled since 2004, and skill proficiency has improved across the board for those who perform IT security or information assurance activities extensively.

The number of respondents who said they have information assurance certification since 2004 has increased by 5.9 percent — the third highest among certifications named by IT workers. Certifications in computing, at 9 percent, and network support, at 8.3 percent, increased the most.

Still, the lack of progress around project management remained the biggest surprise from the survey because of how many respondents — 43.9 percent — said they were IT project managers.

Since 2002, OMB has focused on the federal project management workforce by defining minimum qualifications for project managers. In a 2004 memo, OMB included changes in Circular A-11 to focus on reporting, including earned value management and memos requiring its use.

But the survey and a hearing held in September 2007 by a Senate subcommittee  revealed that 18 departments rebaselined almost 20 percent of their 2,027 projects.

“Program management is a core competence of government, yet we don’t recognize it for the impact and the benefits it can have on success of government in delivering outcomes,” said Emory Miller, a senior vice president of government affairs at Robbins-Gioia, a program management consulting firm. “We spend a lot of time talking about acquisition, but program management is integral to that discipline and to the enterprise.”

The survey also found that project management was the top training need by those performing the functions extensively, and it was the second-highest education need for those performing the functions moderately. The number of respondents who said they received project management certifications stayed the flat at 6.7 percent, and 4.1 percent said they specifically received IT project management certification. This was a new category of inquiry since 2004.

Miller said agencies don’t spend enough time training project managers.

“The government has to establish a career series that people aspire to,” he said. “That way, agencies reward program managers so they can be promoted through series and gain experience and stay within a career field.”

Lorentz added that the government should consider a education institution inside the government similar to the Project Management Institute. "There are some fundamental things that need to be done here to improve project management,” he said.

The council must continue dealing with the retirement wave, and project managers are being affected in ways similar to those in other IT jobs. The analysis said more than 24 percent of the respondents performing project management extensively will be eligible to retire in three years, but only 12.3 percent plan on retiring. Meanwhile, 19 percent of the respondents who perform ITPM moderately will be eligible to retire in the next three years, and 12 percent said they plan on retiring.

The council made 11 recommendations, including continued project management training as being critical for current personnel and succession planning.

“Cost/benefit analysis and capital planning and investment assessment should all be considered for targeted training; each showed significant…gaps among individuals performing IT project management functions extensively and even larger gaps among personnel performing the same functio s to a moderate degree,” the council recommended. “Contracting/procurement showed a small gap for those extensively engaged in IT project management and a medium gap for those performing moderately, and [it] was also identified as a training need.”

Respondents said they still lack skills to use the federal enterprise architecture but have closed the skill gaps for EA in general. The survey said the rate of retirement for workers with those skills is high: Ten percent said they will retire during the next three years. The council recommended increased training and succession planning.

The council also said it is working with the Office of Personnel Management to establish an IT architecture specialty title in the GS-2210 series.

“This effort will aid in management of the federal EA community, the majority [of whom] currently identify themselves as project managers or members of the policy and planning specialty area,” the report states.

The council also has high hopes for the Homeland Security Department’s IT Security Essential Body of Knowledge (EBK) effort to develop a national baseline for the cybersecurity workforce.

“Compiled as a competency and functional framework, the EBK will characterize the IT Security/IA workforce, promoting uniform guidelines for training and certification programs that will assist in overall workforce management,” the report states.

Lorentz said IT security received so much attention from OMB and Congress that it only could improve. But project management hasn’t received that level of attention.

“What we don’t want to happen is major program problems due to the lack of program management skills,” he said. “We need to figure out way tot create focus and intensity on this without having to be downstream of big problem.”