Survey: Federal project managers need more training

The key to reducing the number of failed agency IT projects is training ' training on risk identification and management; training on initial baseline development and training on technical project management.

That is what 104 federal IT executives said when surveyed about the state of IT project management.

The survey, sponsored by Price Systems LLC of Mount Laurel, N.J., found that at least 67 percent of the executives either said training in risk identification and management, baseline development and technical project management didn't exist or they were unsure if it was provided by their agencies.

And unrealistic baselines are the cause for almost half of all failed, cancelled or over-budget IT projects, the respondents said.

Additionally, when they do baselines, 34 percent of the respondents said schedule management is most challenging, followed by 31 percent who said cost management.

'If you are not generating solid baselines to begin with, then you are building your project in sand, and it is hard to be successful and move through,' said Larry Reagan, vice president for Price Systems' government solutions division. 'Agencies are not armed with the right tools, training and data to do it successfully.'

Price Systems estimated that the 46 percent of unsuccessful projects cost about $5.5 billion. The number is based on the Government Accountability Office's estimate that agencies waste about $12 billion a year due to poor planning or performance, Reagan said.

Another big problem agencies face is performing cost estimates, the survey found. More than three-quarters of all respondents said there is not enough training in cost estimating. The challenge of estimating costs leads to unrealistic budgets 28 percent of the time, according to the federal executives.

Almost two-thirds of the respondents said the No. 1 reason many programs are over budget was poor program management, while 54 percent said it was scope creep.

To combat these issues, the survey found that training and having a fully coordinated initial baseline were the top two tools that would help keep projects on budget.

'A lot of programs start without a program manager,' said Bob Young, executive director for Price Systems and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Army for cost and economics. 'The money is put in and has no baseline and then is handed off to the project manager. Most of the time, they are told to execute with whatever funds are available. They are put in almost a no-win situation from the beginning.'

Reagan said agencies are making progress, thanks in part to administration guidance.

'People understand what they need to do to make themselves successful,' Reagan said. 'The Office of Management and Budget has done a good job communicating what needs to be done. But how do they execute? That is the problem.'

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