How the private sector can really help the public sector rebuild America

Washington continues to debate how much government should tax and spend and where government should cut and save. And despite the partisan debate, the fact remains the U.S. government continues to make investments in national defense and critical infrastructure necessary to keep America safe and competitive. President Obama recently outlined his commitment to advancing our infrastructure with the announcement of the Partnership to Rebuild America, calling for both investment and innovation from the private sector.

We believe there is a third contribution from the private sector that can support building our infrastructure while reducing wasteful spending: through the implementation of effective program management, an often under-appreciated, but absolutely essential, element of business success and sound fiscal health.

Today, government risks wasting nearly 15 percent of every $1 billion spent on programs, due to ineffective program management, according to Project Management Institute’s 2013 Pulse of the ProfessionTM survey. In fact, both public and private sectors report significant declines in both program success rates and program management skills. More troubling is that government lags behind the global average; the $148 million at risk for every $1 billion spent on programs is 10 percent more than the average in our survey findings.

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A major handicap for organizations everywhere is lack of support among senior executives. This is especially true in government — only 11 percent of government organizations have a senior-level program management officer, compared with 22 percent in the global average. Further, only 25 percent of government agencies report having a defined career path for those engaged in project or program management, a full 17 percentage points lower than the global average. What can government do to bridge the gap and increase its rate of success? PMI has identified three essential steps.

• First, develop and reward project managers the same as any other high-value profession. This means consistent and continuous training, well-defined career paths, and investment in new tools and techniques. We do see pockets of excellence within government, such as the IT Program Manager Job Classification recently established by US Chief Information Officer.

• Second, standardize practices within the organization, elevating program management from an ad hoc discipline to one that, like other essential business professions, has well-established processes and accountabilities.

• Third, align program management with strategic mission objectives. High-performing organizations are at least four times more likely than low-performing ones to have mature, strategically-aligned program management practices, according to our 2013 survey data.

When a project fails to meet its goals, more than one-third of that project’s budget is lost forever. This is irresponsible in the best of times; today, it is simply unsustainable.

Today’s professional program managers are essential to execute the mission of government, plus they provide savings and efficiency — avoiding some of the pain caused by imposing new tax revenues or budget cuts. By simply managing existing programs more efficiently the benefits realized willbring confidence, enhance the impact of private capital, deliver vital U.S. infrastructure while making American workers and businesses more competitive and putting more Americans back on the job. All that holds us back is from adequate recognition of program management, leadership and a willingness to replicate what works in the private sector.


Langley is president and CEO of the Project Management Institute.