Stop repeating mistakes

Programs must find innovative ways to do their jobs better.

I have been around government programs since I fiddled with a slide rule at an old metal drafting table in 1970 at Litton Data Systems Inc. And in all that time, two truths have become evident to me. First, no matter how much technology and project support tools progress, project managers will continue to play the most critical role in any computer system development. And second, certain basic project management mistakes will be repeated.

Thousands of program managers work day in and day out on the front lines and have to answer for the success or failure of billions of dollars in procurements. Considering the enormous percentage of the federal budget that is spent on information technology and the tremendous pressure to automate citizen services, there has never been a greater need for program managers to share lessons with one another to mitigate future IT project risks. Any efforts to enhance their ability to successfully perform their tasks should be given top priority.

Many outstanding project management training courses are available, such as those offered by the Program Management Institute. But despite this invaluable training, basic risk-mitigation techniques are still specific to each agency's IT culture and they can't be learned in a classroom. It is critical to the future of government IT that program managers nationwide find innovative ways to explore how they can better:

  • Balance project oversight, contractor management and contract administrative duties.
  • Maximize the amount of Exhibit 300 data that can be applied to project execution.
  • Structure acquisition documents to encourage contractors to submit practical proposals.
  • Implement a risk-management process that works within a specific agency's culture.
  • Deal with cross-organizational dysfunction.
  • Provide senior managers with honest project status.
  • Find the value in earned-value implementation.
  • Communicate effectively within the organization and with contractors outside the organization.

The FCW Events' Program Management Summit was conceived more than three years ago to provide a forum for sharing lessons learned. The first summit was held last November with almost 200 government program managers, and it was a great success. It is the only such event designed by and for government program managers. Each speaker and workshop deals with the risks managers face on most projects. Presenters and panelists are senior program managers who are eager to share the hard-earned experience they have gained fielding IT systems.

As chairman of the Program Management Summit, I'd like to encourage all program and project managers to attend this government-only event, Nov. 18 and 19, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Visit for details. Significant group discounts and professional development credit are available. And please register right away, before the inevitable election-year, continuing resolution iceberg freezes IT training budgets.

Lisagor is program co-chairman for the November 2004 Program Management Summit. He founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help IT executives accelerate and manage business growth. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at

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