Get with the program

There is no doubt about it — with the exception of military combat — managing a program or project, especially one that has a fair share of information technology thrown in the mix, is one of the most difficult jobs in government. Some liken it to going to work everyday in a minefield.

Expectations are typically sky high. Funding — if it's there at all — is often minimal. There are always an endless number of fingers ready to point in the program manger's direction if, and when, something goes wrong. And positive recognition: What's that? Unfortunately, program management also is a job that is not going to get any easier.

One reason for this is that the government increasingly relies on technology to carry out many of its most important missions — from defending the country to delivering essential social services. The tight link between IT and high-profile programs dramatically increases the stakes for project success and minimizes the room for failure.

If you've ever had your computer inexplicably freeze up, then you can understand why anxiety is nearly a constant feeling for government program managers whose job performance assessment hinges on those temperamental machines.

Simultaneously, the technical complexity of the projects and the sophistication of the program objectives keep increasing. The responsibility to make it all work falls ultimately on the head of the already heavily burdened program manager. Of course, the complexity also raises the chances of technical and organizational problems that will have to be resolved.

The good news is that government managers have not been idle. In the stories that follow, we'll explore a number of the ways in which program managers are improving their program and project management skills.

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