Project Management Case Studies

Milestones to Efficiency: Factors that Influence Program Management Success in U.S. Federal Agencies

Milestones to Efficiency: Factors that Influence Program Management Success in U.S. Federal Agencies


Government agencies must implement rigorous project and program capabilities to successfully deliver their initiatives. Yet PMI’s 2014 Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance reveals that only 52 percent of government strategic initiatives meet their original goals and business intent. And just over a third of government agencies report that they fully understand the value of project management. While that should be cause for alarm, there are government agencies that execute project and program management with notable results. This document provides a summary of three such programs.

Project and Program Management in Government Leads to Greater Success Rates​​​​​​

Although formalized project and program management practices have yet to be embraced with equal rigor across all government entities, data reveal that implementing Organizational Project Management (OPM) leads to higher rates of project and program success. To identify the success factors that will serve to inform other government entities, and ideally lead to greater adoption of OPM, PMI initiated three case studies to illustrate what successful OPM looks like in government.

These case studies explore program management within the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This report summarizes the high-level findings and common themes that emerge from these studies, with implications for greater adoption of OPM practices to improve project and program management across government agencies.


Each of the case studies examines a different aspect of program management within government:

  • The SSA: the value of a career development program to develop highly skilled, trained and qualified program managers
  • The BIA: the successful implementation of project management in a program to reduce violent crime, and
  • The FAA: a solid project/program management foundation to provide the necessary experience and skills to streamline the creation and implementation of new air-safety technology.

These case studies illustrate the value of OPM to realize program benefits across disparate programs and government agencies. Each also illustrates how OPM aligns organizational goals. And, while on the surface, these case studies appear to have little in common, they share certain project and program management attributes that led to success for each. These attributes include:

Strong Leadership Capabilities

In all three programs, the program manager was hands-on and involved at every level of the operation, but especially at the implementation level. His focus on the benefits kept the program on track.3 He understood the importance of educating others, even mentoring where possible. He kept in constant contact, monitoring progress (or hurdles) closely, and followed up regularly with his colleagues. He also served to provide coordination between the various stakeholders and other parties and often had the clout to get others to listen. In some cases, he was also quite vocal about individual successes, serving to increase camaraderie and selfconfidence within the team. And, lastly, he “had their backs,” and proved to be a strong supporter and believer in the program.

Commitment to OPM

Each of the leaders, as well as many of the individuals, assigned to the programs had project or program management experience, and many had formalized training with certification. They understood the value of a standardized organization, or situation-specific, approach to project and program management, including the value of formalizing principles and practices. For the SSA, the commitment was institutionalized through various guidelines, regulations and generally accepted practices.

In the BIA program, the commitment and expertise was brought in from another agency in the form of a lead project manager. The practices he introduced to the program proved so successful on the day-to-day workings of the department that they remained in use after completion of the program.

Executive and Senior Level Support

Executive and senior level support brought continued investment in training — essentially guaranteeing that training remains a priority through the project/program. When needed, executive leaders also leverage their influence to call on agency heads or local leaders for cooperation that someone of lower title may be unable to secure. Meanwhile, this level of support conveyed a strong sign of commitment to lower echelons, the ranks of which were more likely to express buy-in for the project/program. Senior management support could be essential in granting time off for formal training and classwork.

Effective Training Programs, Ongoing Coursework and Certifications

Training, coupled with experience, leads to a clearer understanding of project and program management. In one case, the training focused on certification in program management (SSA). For the team involved in the BIA program to lower violent crime rates, Indian Country police officers received sensitivity training. This training familiarized them with Indian cultures and customs, helping officers to avoid cultural missteps. This in turn helped promote acceptance of the program.

Transparent and Effective Communication

A commitment to regular, effective communication proved essential to the success of the three programs. Communications included weekly meetings, or calls, and site visits as well as less formal, impromptu meetings.

Teambuilding and Stakeholder Engagement

Although discussed in part in the communications section, team and stakeholder engagement from the planning stage leads to a sense of ownership, a shared sense of responsibility, and a vested interest in program success. Other benefits include an increased understanding and respect among parties, which helps avoid resistance and misunderstanding that can lead to delays.

Posted on May 30, 2017