Stop repeating mistakes

I have been around government programs since I fiddled with a slide rule at an old metal drafting table in 1970 at Litton Data Systems Inc. And in all that time, two truths have become evident to me. First, no matter how much technology and project support tools progress, project managers will continue to play the most critical role in any computer system development. And second, certain basic project management mistakes will be repeated.

Thousands of program managers work day in and day out on the front lines and have to answer for the success or failure of billions of dollars in procurements. Considering the enormous percentage of the federal budget that is spent on information technology and the tremendous pressure to automate citizen services, there has never been a greater need for program managers to share lessons with one another to mitigate future IT project risks. Any efforts to enhance their ability to successfully perform their tasks should be given top priority.

Many outstanding project management training courses are available, such as those offered by the Program Management Institute. But despite this invaluable training, basic risk-mitigation techniques are still specific to each agency's IT culture and they can't be learned in a classroom. It is critical to the future of government IT that program managers nationwide find innovative ways to explore how they can better:

  • Balance project oversight, contractor management and contract administrative duties.
  • Maximize the amount of Exhibit 300 data that can be applied to project execution.
  • Structure acquisition documents to encourage contractors to submit practical proposals.
  • Implement a risk-management process that works within a specific agency's culture.
  • Deal with cross-organizational dysfunction.
  • Provide senior managers with honest project status.
  • Find the value in earned-value implementation.
  • Communicate effectively within the organization and with contractors outside the organization.

The FCW Events' Program Management Summit was conceived more than three years ago to provide a forum for sharing lessons learned. The first summit was held last November with almost 200 government program managers, and it was a great success. It is the only such event designed by and for government program managers. Each speaker and workshop deals with the risks managers face on most projects. Presenters and panelists are senior program managers who are eager to share the hard-earned experience they have gained fielding IT systems.

As chairman of the Program Management Summit, I'd like to encourage all program and project managers to attend this government-only event, Nov. 18 and 19, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Visit for details. Significant group discounts and professional development credit are available. And please register right away, before the inevitable election-year, continuing resolution iceberg freezes IT training budgets.

Lisagor is program co-chairman for the November 2004 Program Management Summit. He founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help IT executives accelerate and manage business growth. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group