Landing Work in the Government Sector

The public sector is booming with projects, but project managers and their organizations need a proven track record to win the job.

22 March 2010

Whether you’re working in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States or any other country, there are tremendous opportunities in public-sector projects.

Organizations that are contracted to work on those projects stand to create a lot of work for project managers.

Governments are the biggest customers in the world, says Brice Yocum, CEO of Visalia, California, USA-based Strateventure LLC, a consultancy focused on helping small businesses get work in the U.S. federal government market.

“If you are not working with them, you are missing out,” he says.

Governments can be very loyal to high-performing contractors, adds Don Dickson, vice president of Government Training Inc., in Washington, D.C., USA.

“If you do a good job, the odds of getting repeat work climb considerably,” Mr. Dickson says.

Securing work for your company in the government sector, however, can be a complicated and time-consuming battle. It’s not uncommon for a bid process to take up to two years, warns Shayne Phillips, PMP, program executive for CSC, a global consulting, systems integration and outsourcing firm in Adelaide, Australia.

“These are public servants spending your money, so there is a lot of rigor and control over where money gets spent,” he explains. “They have a lot of constraints as to how they can spend money, and that creates a long, slow struggle when you are trying to win contracts.”

And he’s had first-hand experience with that rigor and control. Mr. Phillips previously served as the director for strategic programs, investment and assurance for the Office of the Chief Information Officer for the whole of the South Australian government.

Prove Your Project Success

To win government jobs, you must be able to demonstrate a proven track record, Mr. Dickson says.

“Past performance is really important on government contracts,” he says. Government agencies will expect detailed biographies of key personnel with a project proposal, as well as examples of past projects of a similar size and scope to the one being bid on.

Mr. Yocum argues it doesn’t matter if your organization has little or no experience in the public sector. Focus on selling your capabilities.

And that’s the stage when many new-to-government project players fail to close the deal.

“You have to show your experience in a way that lets decision-makers easily decipher how you will meet their needs,” Mr. Yocum says. “It’s not about producing a 40-page glossy brochure. It’s about delivering the right information to the right people in a concise, organized manner.”

If you make it to the proposal stage, be sure you speak in terms government contractors understand, says Mr. Phillips.

“You aren’t talking to a CEO, you are talking to the treasury,” he says. “Speak their language, use examples that are relevant to government and show that you understand where they are coming from.”

Project managers who want to make themselves more attractive to government organizations should consider obtaining credentials, which carry a lot of weight when fighting for government contracts. Organizations know that such qualifications offer solid evidence that you have the formal training to back up your promises.

But you’re still going to have to network, Mr. Phillips says.

“It’s all about shoe leather. You’ve got to knock on doors, use social networking tools and meet people face-to-face,” he says. “If you build your reputation ahead of time, they will remember you when an opportunity comes across their desk. That’s how you stand out from the crowd.”

Why should you earn a PMI credential? Learn how credentialed employees bring added value to organizations and contribute to project success.

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