Project managers wired to matrix

M-04-19 Information Technology Project Manager (PM) Qualifications Guidance

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Project management for major information technology programs will be held to a new level of scrutiny under guidance recently issued by the CIO Council.

The Federal IT Project Manager Guidance Matrix, released by the CIO Council in July, classifies IT projects according to three levels of complexity and risk (see box), and it recommends corresponding competencies and experience for project managers.

In a July 21 memo to federal chief information officers, Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget, asked agencies to submit their plans for ensuring that managers of major projects are qualified by Sept. 30.

Agency compliance will be factored into grades on the e-government section of OMB's next quarterly score card. Budget submissions for fiscal 2006 must also classify projects according to the levels and state whether assigned managers' qualifications match the matrix.

CIO Council members have become increasingly aware that poor project management is a significant reason for the failure of major projects.

"Most projects fail not because of lack of money or a technical solution, but because of the inability of people to get together, marshal their folks," said Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee, which developed the new guidance.

Many experts agree with Hobbs' analysis. Plenty of large IT projects have failed because of bad management, said Richard Keevey, director of the National Academy of Public Administration's performance consortium.

Keevey said an example of failure caused by poor management is the Department of Veterans Affairs' decision to kill the CoreFLS financial management pilot program at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The project, which cost more than

$200 million, was supposed to create an integrated system that combined logistical, billing and other management functions by October 2003 at one of the largest VA facilities in the country.

But the project never became fully

operational, and earlier this year, a report by the VA's inspector general concluded that its failures had resulted in the delays of more than 80 surgeries.

As for the new guidelines, officials at each agency will decide whether project managers make the matrix grade or not, Hobbs said. "This is not a standard; this is guidance," he added.

Some management experts say the guidance may not be tough enough. "You're going to wind up with different interpretations," said Jim Flyzik, formerly Treasury Department CIO and vice chairman of the CIO Council. "CIOs are just so busy right now that probably they're relying on their staff people to put this together. ... It's going to be a very subjective call."

But it would be wrong to dismiss the matrix as merely a paper exercise, said Fred Thompson, practice director for e-government at Unisys Corp. and former assistant director for consulting and marketing in Treasury's CIO office.

"It's a major change and a major improvement," Thompson said. The matrix's "teeth is in Karen Evans' guidance" and in linking budget requests with compliance, he added.


What is the matrix for program managers?

Agency officials must follow new guidelines developed by the federal CIO Council for determining if information technology project managers are qualified. These guidelines are based on levels of risk associated with IT projects, with Level 3 representing the highest risk.

Level 1

Bureau-level projects such as stand-alone information systems that have low to moderate complexity and risk.

Skills such as an understanding of program management and competencies listed in the Office of Personnel Management€s 2210 Series IT Project Manager Guidance.

At least one year of technical or management experience.

Level 2

Departmentwide projects, such as agencywide systems integration, that have high complexity and/or risk.

High proficiency in program management skills based on the OPM 2210 Series and advanced management and IT skills.

At least two to four years of technical or management experience, depending on project complexity.

Level 3


Governmentwide initiatives such as those on the President€s Management Agenda or other high-profile projects.

Thorough knowledge of Clinger-Cohen Act core competencies and agency-specific skills and knowledge.

At least two to four years of experience, including management of a Level 2 project.

Source: Office of Management and Budget

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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