OMB to define project manager prerequisites

As part of a policy now being drafted, OMB may require agency project managers to qualify for their jobs

As part of a policy now being drafted, the Office of Management and Budget may require agency project managers to qualify for their jobs.

The policy is part of an OMB effort to improve how information technology projects are managed in the federal government, according to an OMB official.

Because much concern has focused on the lack of training for federal IT project managers, such managers could be asked to go through certification, or prove that they led successful projects that came within 10 percent of cost, schedule and performance goals requirements.

OMB plans to use the results from a CIO Council survey sent to agencies earlier this month in drafting the policy. The "IT Project Management Skills Gap Survey" is designed to get a better handle on the government's "inventory and need for qualified IT project managers," the survey said.

The survey itself puts chief information officers on the spot by asking them how many projects are being led, and not being led, by qualified project managers.

The hunt for qualified project managers took on a sense of urgency when OMB deemed more than 700 projects "at risk" in the fiscal 2004 budget. Hundreds of those projects are on the list because they lack good project managers.

It's important for project managers to have experience and training, said Ed Hoffman, director of the NASA Academy of Program and Project Leadership. "An individual without education and training is at risk," he said. "But someone who has only had training without experience and mentoring support is also at risk."

The academy offers training, real-time expert advice and knowledge sharing, Hoffman said.

"I work for an organization that lives and dies by the project," Hoffman said. But other agencies have no structured project management process, which can take five years to establish, he said.

A quick fix would be to certify a certain number of people by a certain date, Hoffman said. "But I think that is dumb." Agencies have to take time to understand their own culture, their needs and the nature of the profession, he said.

There shouldn't be a rush to certify all IT project managers, said Rich D'Adamo, president of Workforce Solutions LLC. "The time commitment required to attain certification alone could imperil many ongoing projects and the cost of testing all project managers...could be staggering." A more realistic approach would be to require them to complete a minimum mandatory training program covering key topics such as risk management and quality management.

Still the requirement for project manager certification in government is likely to increase, said Daniel Parrott, with the Army Corps of Engineers' civil programs and project management branch.

In the civil works program, almost every project is shared with a local sponsor who asks specifically about the qualifications of the project manager on the job, he said. "Our local sponsors are getting more sophisticated," and it's just a matter of time before they start asking for certification as well, he said.

IBM Corp.'s federal sector has seen more requests for proposals that stipulate that the project manager assigned to a program must be certified, said Steven DelGrosso, executive project manager in IBM's public sector group.

In the late 1990s, IBM established a project management center of excellence and required additional internal certifications for project managers practicing at a certain level, DelGrosso said. Benchmark studies have shown how "a lack of a good structured methodology" has caused projects to fail or come in over budget, he said.

But laying all the responsibility for a project's success on a project manager isn't right, said Steven Schafer, Nebraska's CIO. "There are many things that affect a project beyond the project manager," he said, such as changing requirements. And projects — such as Nebraska's enterprise resource planning program — must have support from the top. Any problems that come up "can't get resolved without that high-level support," he said.

Diane Frank contributed to this article.

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