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Posted by on Oct 20, 2015

Improving Project Management – Insights from NAPA

Improving Project Management – Insights from NAPA

In past blogs I have been sharing project management success factors and discussing the challenges associated with delivering projects successfully. These have primarily been focused at actions the project manager and team can take. However, the organization, and the context of project management in the organization, can directly influence the success of projects.

The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), in conjunction with the Project Management Institute (PMI)® recently released a whitepaper, “Improving Program Management in the Federal Government.” NAPA identified five key challenges to building effective program management capabilities across the Federal government and seven conditions needed to support the development of program management in organizations. Although the paper is focused on program management, several of the findings and recommendations presented have a direct correlation to successful project management.

  1. NAPA found successful program management to be more consistently achieved with well-trained, experienced professionals within a supportive infrastructure, based on proven management standards and practices. Specifically, effective program management depends on a cadre of professionals including the program manager, but also an array of technical specialists with the skills in areas of requirements development, cost and schedule estimation, and risk management.

Interesting. These are the very aspects of successful project management I have presented in past blogs. Projects with skilled personnel and mature processes in these areas have demonstrated greater success.

  1. NAPA found organizations that develop and maintain a “culture” of program management were more likely to consistently deliver successful programs and projects. These organizations realized the value of program management and how organizational success, delivering services, and products to their customers was based on successful program / project management. Several key practices in developing a PM culture were identified in the NAPA paper. You may notice that these are key practices in change management, and they include:
  • One senior position and / or office responsible for program management in the organization. This position has the authority to direct resources in support of program management, skill development, tools and processes, and performance improvement. I often have seen enterprise Program Management Offices (PMO) provide these functions.
  • Senior-level support to recognize and communicate program management value and champion its development. This is a key component – being able to demonstrate and articulate the value of program management within the organization. The value statement often starts with a small initiative supported by the champion – something that sets the example with minimal effort and resources.
  • Program management professional community across the agency. This is a very beneficial way the organization as a whole can improve management capabilities – by sharing knowledge of successes and failures. Through discussions with program managers (what is working and what is not) the programs and organization can learn to use the skills and process to become more effective in managing programs. Managers can have the skills and still not be successful because they are not effectively using them. Knowledge sharing provides the opportunity to become effective program managers.

The NAPA paper not only reaffirmed several of the success factors I have discussed previously, but it showed how organizational support is also a key contributor to effective program management. In future postings I will discuss the approach a couple of Federal government agencies have taken in building organizational program management capabilities.


  1. In addition to the items you pointed out, I would like to note something I’ve found to be important. Ongoing training/follow-up training is lacking. Often, since training tends to fall down the scale of importance when executives are prioritizing their budgets, that can be problematic. If you’ve previously, taken a project management course, it’s difficult to get approval to get any follow-up training regardless how long ago it’s been since you have last taken it. The core competencies for managing projects are deeply based in the auspices of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Training is necessary in order to stay abreast of key areas of the FAR. Federal procurement regulations ought to make follow-up training compulsory for anyone actively involved in any procurements. Unless you require follow-up training to maintain a certification or licensure you have, it’s a challenge to get approval.

    The news media often highlights errors made by federal employees who manage contracts. A little prevention by way of training can go a long way, I believe, in reducing the percentage of mis-managed contracts.

  2. Good point. One of the findings in the NAPA / PMI study was the lack of a systematic approach to the training and development of program managers in federal agencies. So it is largely up to individuals to seek training and certification. Hopefully that will change as the Federal government develops a program management culture.

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