Strengthen Program Management
Effectively managing modular IT programs requires a corps of program and project management professionals with extensive experience and robust training. Strong program management professionals are essential to effectively steward IT programs from beginning to end, align disparate stakeholders, manage the tension between on-time delivery and additional functionality, and escalate issues for rapid resolution before they become roadblocks. The size and criticality of large Federal Government IT programs are considerable. The people managing these programs must represent the best of the best.
Challenges with program management are pervasive across the Federal Government due to a general shortage of qualified personnel. However, pockets of excellence exist in the government. For example, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a developed a multi-tier career track for program managers that requires both training and experience for advancement. Program managers advance by gaining experience on small projects before moving to larger, more complex programs. SSA feels so strongly about the critical role of program managers that it will not begin a new program unless the right manager is in place and dedicated to lead it.
High-performing IT organizations have a well-developed program management talent strategy. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), working with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, will need to take steps to significantly enhance the supply of IT program management talent in the Federal Government. Steps include creating a career path to attract and reward top performers, establishing integrated, multi-disciplinary program teams with key skills before beginning major IT programs, requiring program managers to share best practices at the close of each program, launching a technology fellows program, and encouraging mobility of program managers across the government.
Design a formal IT program management career path
In the next six months, OPM, with input from agencies and OMB, will create a specialized career path for IT program managers (PMs). This will likely require creating a separate Occupational Series specific to IT program management within the current IT family with career advancement paths that are more competitive with the private sector. The path should require expertise and experience for advancement. It will also require the development of a competency model for IT program management consistent with the IT project manager model.
Finding, recruiting, and hiring top IT program management talent is challenging. In the next six months, OPM will work with OMB to provide agencies with direct hiring authority for IT PMs as necessary.
Further, agencies will identify specific IT program management competency gaps in the next Human Capital Management Report and develop specific plans to close the IT PM gap. To ensure that agencies are executing these plans, senior agency executives will review their progress and provide an interim report to OMB, 12 months after the next Human Capital Management Report is published.
OPM will work with the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pilot the IT program management career track.
Scale IT program management career path government-wide
After piloting IT program management career paths at Treasury and USDA, OPM will work to expand the IT program management career paths more broadly across the Federal Government.
Require integrated program teams
A primary challenge impacting the successful delivery of IT programs is the need to manage a broad set of stakeholder communities, including agency leaders, business process owners, IT, acquisition, financial management, and legal. The typically siloed nature of government stakeholder communities is ill-suited for the multi-disciplinary and rapidly evolving needs of major IT program management processes.
High-performing private sector firms quickly bring together small multi-disciplinary, integrated program teams (IPTs) consisting of the following functions: business process owners who have a clear vision of the problem they are solving, IT professionals who understand the full range of technical solutions, acquisition professionals who plan and procure needed labor and materials, and finance staff to secure required funding. In addition, other functions such as HR and legal are included on the program team as needed. At the hub of these IPTs is a strong and effective program manager who stewards the process from beginning to end.
Examples of high-functioning IPTs exist in pockets of the Federal Government in which a complete IPT is required for major programs prior to beginning the investment review process. However, the practice is still only unevenly applied. The healthcare.gov initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services provides a good example of what a fully integrated multi-disciplinary team can do in the Federal Government. The healthcare.gov team successfully launched a citizen-facing website within 90 days of program initiation to rave reviews.
Over the next six months, OMB will issue guidance requiring an IPT, led by a dedicated, full-time program manager and supported by an IT acquisition specialist, be in place for all major IT programs before OMB will approve program budgets.
Dedicate resources throughout the program lifecycle and co-locate when possible
For each large IT program, critical members of the IPT will serve as full-time resources dedicated to the program. This must include a 100% dedicated IT program manager, but other roles will vary by program. Key members of the IPT will also be co-located during the most critical junctures of the program. This is especially important during the requirements-writing phase, when business, IT and acquisition must define and modify requirements in short iterative cycles, and when “translation issues” have historically caused problems. The core of the IPT, including all IT program leadership roles, will be in place throughout the program lifecycle, from the initial concept development phase through the delivery of the last increment under the contract. For major IT investments, agency leadership will approve the composition of the integrated program team and the dedicated program manager.
Agencies will hold integrated program team members accountable for both individual functional goals and overall program success
A pervasive issue in government programs is that individual stakeholders focus primarily on performance metrics within their functions, and not on the holistic outcomes of the program. For example, IT or program staff may push to award work to a particular vendor, or to add “bells and whistles” that fail to take into account time pressures and budgetary constraints. Similarly, contracting staff may focus so much on competition requirements and small-business participation goals that they fail to look for solutions that meet these important requirements while also satisfying program needs. . We need to replace these “stovepiped” efforts, which too often push in inconsistent directions, with an approach that brings together the stakeholders and integrates their efforts.
Agency executives will work with their senior procurement executives (SPEs), CIOs, and program leaders to take action and drive towards a more balanced set of individual and program success metrics based on the following two recommendations:
- First, agencies should set up individual performance goals that cover individual and program objectives. Performance goals for acquisition, IT, and business personnel need to include a combination of individual and program objectives.
- Second, agencies must also ensure that the individual and program metrics balance speed, quality, effectiveness, and compliance with Federal Acquisition Regulations. Supervisors must utilize a balanced set of performance metrics to evaluate individual performance. Individuals who provide exemplary contributions to the team will be recognized for their success (e.g., acquisition recognition through the Federal Acquisition Institute Awards & Recognition Program for individuals who effectively meet program needs without sacrificing compliance).
Launch a best practices collaboration platform
Within six months, the Federal CIO Council will develop a collaboration portal to exchange best practices, case studies, and allow for real-time problem solving. To institutionalize this best practice sharing, agency PMs will submit post-implementation reviews of their major program deliveries to the portal. These reviews will populate a searchable database of synthesized and codified program management best practices that all PMs can access.
Launch technology fellows program
Within 12 months, the office of the Federal CIO will create a technology fellows program and the accompanying recruiting infrastructure. By partnering directly with universities with well-recognized technology programs, the Federal Government will tap into the emerging talent pool and begin to build a sustainable pipeline of talent. The technology fellows programs should specifically target competency gaps that are identified in the Human Capital Management Reports submitted by agencies.
The program will aim to cut bureaucratic barriers to entering public service and provide access to unique career opportunities in government agencies. At the same time, these roles will provide new fellows with relevant training in large IT program management.
Enable IT program manager mobility across government and industry
The Federal CIO Council, OMB, and OPM, over the next 12 – 18 months, will be responsible for developing a process that will support and encourage movement of program managers across government and industry. Rotational opportunities allow the Federal Government to leverage its size to share knowledge and expertise across agencies. IT program managers with experience on specific types of programs or with specific types of systems should have opportunities to apply this experience on similar programs across government. Similarly, program managers should be given opportunities to learn from leading private companies. The Federal CIO Council, OMB, and OPM will work to design opportunities for industry rotation to allow Federal program managers to remain up-to-date with the latest skills while managing conflict of interest issues.
To support PM mobility, the Federal CIO Council will build a repository of information on all Federal Government IT PMs, including relevant background, specific expertise, implementation experience, and performance as part of its best practices collaboration platform.