Tips for successful program management

A successful program management effort needs careful cooperation between agency and contractor, and attention to detail and planning. Scott Amey, executive vice president at RS Information Systems Inc., offers some pointers.

* Give each task its own schedule. "A project may have multiple tasks — a lot of our contracts may have anywhere from one to 100 different tasks," Amey said. To keep each task on track, set a schedule, including what needs to be done and who is responsible, along with the start and end dates. Include costs on the schedules, too, Amey said.

* Define performance metrics for every task. The specifics will vary from task to task and contract to contract, but Amey said there are two metrics that always apply: "Are you on time, and are you doing everything according to the budgeted cost?"

n Measure often. Amey recommends a performance evaluation every six months. "You can see if you're hitting the metrics," he said. "If not, the project managers work with the project team to develop an improvement plan." Measure overall customer satisfaction, too, he said. Delivering on time isn't enough if the customer isn't happy.

* Know when to divvy up the work and when to join forces. In general, contractors should supervise their employees, while the agency monitors overall progress, he said. But when a task is intimately tied to the agency's business needs, the two entities should work closely together. Every once in a while, contractors will encounter agency personnel who encroach on the contractor's turf. How should that be handled? "Very carefully," Amey said. "If there is a case where they're overstepping their bounds, in those cases we've gone to the contracting officer."

* Nip problems in the bud. Contractors should make information available to the government as quickly as possible, he said. RSIS is setting up an electronic task order system. Already available on some contracts, it will be available on all of them by the end of the year. "It's really starting to click. That's their primary way of monitoring what's going on," he said.

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