Applying Private Efficiencies to Public Money

It is at least a starting point that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is starting to assess different government agencies against project management best practices (as defined by the Project Management Institute, or PMI). It is interesting that they are starting with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). On one hand, it makes sense since they deal with physical properties and construction, which lend itself better to traditional project management. On the other hand, it may not be the most effective place to start in the government (healthcare would have a bigger impact, for instance).

The six categories HUD was assessed within were: (1) project charter, (2) work breakdown structure, (3) project management plan, (4) requirements management plan, (5) requirements traceability matrix, and (6) acquisition strategy.

Interestingly, most projects had charters, but not clear accountability (insert joke about government (in)efficiencies here). Potentially more concerning, is at least two projects under major initiatives lacked “development” in four of the six categories, which implies minimal/insufficient project management over the project.

With the increasing pressure on the government (like the private industry) to do more with less, the historical inefficiencies will no longer be acceptable. One key way to deal with this is not to actually do less, but to be efficient by reducing overhead (i.e., project management). The fundamental advantage to project management (besides success) is planning ahead – which the government needs to do more of.

Hopefully, the GAO will continue to assess various government agencies (AND follow-up to confirm changes are made) so that the use of taxpayer’s money is as efficient as the use of money within the private sector.

Source: “HUD falters at project management”, June 14, 2013 (

6 thoughts on “Applying Private Efficiencies to Public Money

  1. Very interesting article. I feel if the government were to eliminate the project management aspect, it could have disastrous consequences. While they would realize upfront savings in terms of salaries not paid out, they are losing a crucial asset. As you stated, project managers have the know how on how to plan a project and think of the various intricacies of getting each step done. When it’s accounted for at the beginning of a project, the budget and the timelines can be adjusted accordingly for those potential gotchas. Without that planning, team members and management might just throw money at a project or task until it gets resolved, or even worse, they may scrap the project. I believe keeping a project manager in place will in the long run save money.

  2. Too many government jokes running through my mind…This is a very interesting article and unfortunately the cynic in me does not believe that the government will be able to reduce some of their many inefficiencies. In the majority of case studies or articles that I have read most organizations are successful and able to move quickly when leadership and project managers are given latitude to make decisions quickly and not have to deal with bureaucratic issues. Hopefully this new process will be a step in the right direction for the government but I personally do not believe they will ever be as successful at managing projects as private industry.

  3. Interesting post and a lot of discussion could be had regarding this overall theme, instituting private policy to the public sector. This initiative has a high probability of failing even before it starts. Imagining trying to get the public engine to shift course to become more lean and efficient while implementing a project management direction is like having a cruise ship make a 90 degree right turn. It seems that this would have to be a long, long, long term project mainly because of the buy in that would need to take place. In a private company, if you don’t follow the rules and guidelines as stated above, you get fired. In the public sector, there is so much red tape to get anything done, it would be difficult to get a full team of “project managers” on board. While I am skeptical (if you couldn’t tell) that this will work, I hope that it does work and that the long term outlook with regards to project management on large scale projects is better.

  4. Great choice in an article and topic. I agree with Rob and Sean that although more efficiency in government projects is necessary, it’s a long shot that it will ever actually happen. I’ve always been a fan of the analogy Sean used about trying to turn a cruise ship. Many private sector firms have begun to “flatten” their management. The process eliminates the number of managers needed to approve changes and allows companies to move much faster overall. I’d imagine the pubic sector would most likely have to take a similar approach to improve project management efficiency.

  5. Without trying to be too cynical, I feel like one of the biggest hurdles in this area lies in the way funds are allocated. Too often it feels like a politician is pressured into or finds it advantageous to give money to a particular region regardless of whether or not there’s a good plan in place for what happens to it. That money that’s been budgeted has to be spent somehow and oftentimes many people are satisfied by the idea that the project created jobs in that area even if there’s very little else to show for it. It feels like a bit of a Rewarding A While Expecting B scenario.

  6. This is something that is going to plague us for years until we start holding our politicians accountable. Any experience that I have had in dealing with government has been a very frustrating experience, because it feels as though there really is no accountability regarding project management or really anything else. Hopefully projects like this further expose this and help our tax dollars get spent a little more efficiently.

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