Miller: 7 ways to be collaborative

To be successful, managers must embrace change and sell people on how things can get better

A few years ago, I appeared on stage at a government conference with my dog, Change. I introduced the cute black Labrador puppy by petting him and saying, “Everybody loves Change,” much to the delight of the audience. It was a clever way to open a conference. But I must confess I am not sure everybody loves change, unless, of course, it has four legs. I am even less certain that we recognize change when it is occurring around us.

Now, for instance, we find ourselves in a new environment as we manage and deliver the government’s programs. In line with this, we are witnessing the evolution of a new creature, one I call the collaborative program manager — PM sapiens. These new creatures display a number of traits that make them successful in this new, larger business environment of appropriators, finance officers, human resources personnel, information technologists, acquisition officials, auditors, policy wonks and — oh yes — program people.

A collaborative program manager:

1. Values and embraces networks. Today’s program managers understand that groups of people who share their interests can be helpful in providing and influencing support. These program managers also understand that networks come in all sizes: from small, influential groups of colleagues to large, nationwide advocacy groups.

2. Understands the big picture. Today’s program managers know that they must define themselves as valued business partners whose programs contribute to the mission and strategic business objectives of the agency.

3. Understands how to lead from the side. Collaborative program managers understand that work today is not just accomplished from a position of power within a hierarchical organization. They understand that in the informal organizational chart, work is frequently accomplished outside of the traditional management chains. The challenge is to influence people who don’t work for you.

4. Knows how to sell. Collaborative program managers are incessant salespeople who send messages on every aspect of their programs, including vision, approach, strategic alignment, strategic value, interim progress, incremental outcomes and program successes throughout the enterprise.

5. Is inclusive. Today’s program managers know that including others in their programs, even those from tangential parts of the organization, increases their chances of success. Why? Because people who are brought into the process learn the importance of the effort, want to contribute to its success and frequently bring influence and resources to bear.

6. Mitigates the stovepipes. Collaborative program managers recognize the power of program management to break down barriers within an organization.

7. Values independent program management.
I like to say program management is an open-source discipline that applies and adds value wherever business processes are at work. It can do more, though. A program management function that is fiercely independent and accountable only to the program official provides immense value by helping the official make the right decisions at the right time to deliver the program within its cost, schedule and performance goals. Programs stay on track because government decision-makers value the insight of independent and trusted advisers who see, with clarity, the true status of their programs.

Miller is a senior vice president at Robbins-Gioia, a program management consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., and a 36-year veteran of federal service. He can be reached at

About the Author

Emory Miller is a former federal employee who was instrumental in establishing the CIO University. He is now a senior vice president for Robbins-Gioia, LLC, a program management consultancy in Alexandria, Va.

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