Online Extra: Grass-roots advice for project managers

Powerful, sophisticated software should be only one item in a manager's toolbox. People skills are another.

As portfolio, program and project management gain increased prominence in government, case studies have become powerful tools for sharing information about best practices.

Just as important are fundamental management techniques and practices, according to management training specialists.

'A lot of this stuff has been around for a long, long time but it still has value,' said Spencer McIlmurray, a senior vice president in the executive services unit at META Group, a Connecticut consulting company.

A key component of successful project management is bringing 'the right mix' of workers and the latest technology to a project and remaining nimble, he said.

'Old hardware goes into museums. Old software goes into production every night,' said McIlmurray, who was among the speakers at a project management conference and showcase in New York last month, produced by the International Institute for Learning Inc. and the Digital Consulting Institute.

Other advice and counsel offered at the conference and in industry-sponsored white papers:

  • Pick a software that can show how an IT project is producing results and is not simply a standard reporting and scheduling tool. Software packages should be able to illuminate the big picture as well as individual components.

  • Don't fall back on bad behaviors or practices. 'You need someone to drive and force change,' said consultant Randy Englund. 'It's kind of like a rubber band '. (if the project manager) leaves, it snaps back to the way it was.'

  • Understand that all projects will encounter some kind of failure.

  • Don't let problems fester. 'Conflict avoidance creates even more conflict later,' said Lou Russell, another consultant.

  • Make sure all meetings are efficient, which might mean inviting only key team members to sessions and have them relay important news and developments.

  • Keep the CEO informed of what's happening, but don't bury leaders under an avalanche of papers and fine print. Listen to their feedback.

  • Praise success in public and make sure feedback is consistent and often.

  • Dictators as manager are out, collaborators are in. 'It doesn't have to be a command-and-control setting,' said Martin Morrow, chief executive of a software company.

  • Understand how 'actions in projects for short-term gain often have long-term repercussions,' Russell said.


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