Enhancing Government Talents to Mold a World-Class Project Management System



Faced with a mature and aging staff of project managers that had been pulled together in a governmental merger of multiple sites, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) conducted a self-assessment, developed a framework to reduce to writing its Project Management System, and proposed a road map that will enhance its project management capabilities to world-class status.

With a more than 90-year history of planning, conducting, and implementing research, development, and demonstration programs in energy and environmental technologies, NETL has developed a broad set of technical and managerial skills. NETL is one of fifteen national laboratories within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), created via a governmental merger in which a single management structure was formed to oversee several sites while reducing the size of its staff via attrition. The Lab is blessed with a staff of mature project managers that perform excellent work; however, the organization lacked overall consistency and a documented policy of practices. Compounding this problem was the fact that its corporate memory resided in an aging staff; many who will be eligible for retirement within five years. This paper addresses the self-assessment completed by NETL, the proposed framework for a Project Management System, and the proposed road map to enhance the organization's talents.

Enlisting a small, but diverse group of individuals from within NETL‘s seven project management divisions, the self-assessment was performed. This group was composed of individuals from different organizational backgrounds, different home-sites, different levels of project management, and different technical expertise. The group was tasked to review literature, benchmark best practices, define a framework, identify key competencies and training needs, and formulate a road map that would evolve NETL project management to world quality standards. Unfortunately, the group was tasked to do this in one of the busiest years ever for NETL; i.e., over 700 active projects required management, over 1,500 proposals needed review, and over 200 new contractual agreements were negotiated by a total staff of less than 100 managers. To help alleviate some of the pressure, two PMI fellows (Dr. David Cleland and Dr. Lew Ireland) were approached to pull together a series of seminars on world-class project management, certification pros/cons, competencies and training, and project management system framework. These activities are documented within this paper.


Under 1998 and subsequent Energy and Water Appropriations and discussed in Conference Committee, Congress directed the U.S. DOE to undertake a review and assessment of its overall management structure and processes for identifying, managing, designing and constructing facilities (House Report 105-271). Congress directed that these reviews be conducted by impartial, independent organizations with relevant expertise in government systems. The National Research Council (NRC) and a number of external, independent firms reviewed DOE systems and projects, respectively.

As a result of the completed project reviews and the NRC study (National Research Council 1999) on the DOE project management and acquisition systems, the Deputy Secretary of Energy announced an initiative on June 25, 1999 to strengthen and improve management of its construction and other major projects. The initiative outlines actions to take such as:

1. Establish a strong corporate project management capability in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

2. Establish project management tracking and control systems.

3. Establish the Chief Operating Officer's “Watch List.”

4. Strengthen line management accountability for project management results.

5. Establish greater contractor accountability for project management.

6. Revise the criteria and processes involved before a DOE project can be funded.

7. Develop a long-term program for institutional capacity building.

In light of the Deputy Secretary's announcement, the Director of NETL and the Senior Executive Board requested the Office of Project Management (OPM) to establish an internal review team to conduct a pilot assessment of NETL research and development projects valued at $20 million or more.

Although the significant number of NETL projects are identified as either Research & Development, Technology Development, or Applied Research, managing the NETL project types are of no less significance than those funded as a capital line item or privatization projects. By not providing management tools and consistent guidance for NETL project managers, NETL projects may become exposed to the sometimes-harsh external reviews directed by Congress. A proactive approach to improving project management at NETL may also help to increase its recognition as a successful organization.

Resulting from the six-month pilot assessment of five NETL projects in excess of $20 million, a number of recommendations were generated toward the issue of improving project management on-site. The recommendations of the assessment team included:

1. Develop project management guidelines to provide NETL policy.

2. Develop a procurement strategy document outlining the process for developing strategies and the necessary requirements.

3. Standardize a reporting system outlining and implementing standardized delivery and distribution of project reports.

4. Improve project management training, tools and standards to enhance project execution consistency.

These recommendations were presented to Senior Management and accepted for further action. Since acceptance, recommendation #2 was successfully completed resulting in a computer desktop procedure outlining the procurement development process.

In furthering the actions, a follow-on team (Guidelines Team) was established under the sponsorship of the Associate Director of the OPM. This team was to evaluate and report on the development of a framework or outline of project management guidelines, provide an assessment of and recommendation for/against project management certification, develop a list of training needs, and develop a road map for completing the guideline documentation and implementation. This effort is consistent with the Deputy Secretary of Energy's initiative, announced June 25, 1999 to strengthen and improve management of DOE projects. The Deputy Secretary's initiative has led to the issuance of a new DOE project management directive and the development of an implementation manual. Led by the Office of Engineering and Construction Management (OECM), a Project Manager Career Development Program was established to evaluate and define project manager's training and certification requirements and ultimately oversee the implementation of the program.


The Guidelines Team was assembled in June 2000 to meet with the Executive Sponsor to discuss the mission and project objectives. Team members were responsible for providing representation of OPM, learning from industry experts, responsible for the detail, assessment, deliverables, and briefing the Executive Sponsor Advisory Group (i.e., Associate Director for OPM and OPM Senior Staff). The Advisory Group was responsible for providing a critique of the Guidelines Team efforts and providing recommendations for the Associate Director's consideration.

The major objectives of this effort, as outlined by the Executive Sponsor, were to evaluate and report on the development of a framework or outline of project management guidelines, provide an assessment of and recommendation for/against certification, develop a list of training needs, and develop a road map for completing the guideline documentation and implementation.

A mission was established for the team to:

• Review existing DOE directives, procedures, guidelines, and other current and applicable DOE documentation

• Benchmark three to five non-DOE organizations to evaluate their procedures and guidelines

• Survey organizations to assess the value of project management certification

• Recommend a framework for the project management guidelines

• Identify minimum training requirements in a two-phased approach, near term and long term

• Identify the project management tools for NETL project managers to use in the execution of their projects.

The guiding principles for this effort were noted and agreed to by all parties. These principles were that:

• Project managers are more than just Contracting Officer's Representatives

• The guidelines developed are to reflect the Associate Directors four facets of the OPM (i.e., successful prosecution, quality results, effective communications, and self-improvement)

• All parties would take into consideration the current workload of the team members involved in establishing the dates of guideline deliverables.

The ultimate goal of this program was to have a well-thought “Plan-book” or guidelines to improve NETL project managers and the project management system.

For discussion purposes, the team gathered project management guidance documentation such as:

• DOE Order 413.3, Program and Project Management for the Acquisition of Capital Assets

• DOE Order 430.1A, Life Cycle Asset Management (LCAM)

• Archived DOE Order 4700.1, Project Management System

• Archived DOE Order 4700.4, Project Management Certification

• Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, OCRWM Program Business Plan, DOE/RW-0504

• DOE Good Practice Guides related to LCAM

• DOE Order 241.1, Scientific and Technical Management

• PETC Clean Coal Project Management Guide

• PETC Project Control Guide (1992)

• METC COR Handbook (hardcopy and desktop versions)

• Project Management Institute's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)

• Sandia National Laboratory, Center for Project Management's guidance documents

• DOE Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab's project management directives

• Westinghouse Government Services Group Project Management Guidelines.

The team also began a series of full-day, project management workshops moderated by Dr. David Cleland and Dr. Lewis Ireland (see Endnotes), Project Management Institute (PMI®) Fellows, designed to solicit discussion on the topics of:

• “World-Class Project Management”

• Project manager's certification

• Protocol for developing an NETL project management system

• Evaluation of a work breakdown structure in comparison to NETL processes.

Additional sources of information were continuously brought to the team's attention such as the jointly authored book, “Project Manager's Portable Handbook (Cleland and Ireland 2000) and a letter report submitted June 30, 2000 by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to Senators Fred Thomson and Joseph Lieberman.

The GAO report (B-285479) titled “Observations on the Department of Energy's Fiscal Year 1999 Accountability Report and Fiscal Year 2000/2001 Performance Plans,” was evaluated by Senator Thompson resulting in an “F” grade given to DOE. The reasons noted for the failing grade were:

• DOE plans lack clear and quantitative connection to outcomes and performance

• The GAO was unable to determine whether significant progress is being made toward strategic goals

• The GAO was unable to determine what is trying to be accomplished or how actions were being planned to get to those goals

• The GAO viewed DOE with an ineffective organizational structure that blurred accountability

• Reporting results are not useful because expected results and goals were not clearly established.

In evaluating the GAO‘s most recent concerns toward the department and the discussions put forward during the World-Class Project Management sessions, the team began deliberations on the status of NETL‘s current project management organization, policies, and processes.

The Guidelines Team determined that NETL does meet topical area standards with respect to a world-class organization. These areas were identified as:

• Strategic management

• Project culture

• Project planning

• Project selection

• Cost accounting

• Project controls

• Contracting Officer Representative Certification

• Project information system

• Organizational performance metrics

• Assessing the value of new business.

An evaluation of the topical areas where NETL does not meet, or requires improvement to be considered a world-class organization, are noted as follows:

• A documented project management philosophy to describe:

a. The NETL culture for project management

b. Definitions of roles and responsibilities, authorities, and accountability

c. The policies on project issues such as earned value management, risk planning and management, public relations, etc.

d. The use of standard project management tools and software.

• Routine project audits and reviews

• Ability to use/make available information to readily explain why a project deviates from plan

• Fully understanding strategic alliances, developmental risks, and global markets

• Standard process for distributing information to stakeholders

• Resources to update knowledge, skills, and attitudes of project managers.

In parallel discussions to meet one of the team's objectives and ultimately define what knowledge, skills, and attitudes of project managers required updating, the team evaluated current activities within the DOE and private organizations. The OECM at Headquarters at the direction of the Deputy Secretary of Energy is establishing a complex-wide team to evaluate project manager certification, training requirements, and organizational positions (i.e., levels of project management stature). Completion of this HQ activity is anticipated for November 2001.

Numerous private organizations are currently evaluating the role of PMI in the development of their project managers. Some major companies currently require their project managers to become certified through PMI® as a Project Management Professional (PMP®). Government agencies such as NASA and the Department of Defense have established their own training and certification requirements for the various levels of project management skills and capabilities. OECM will use these organizations as a benchmark in the development of DOE guidance. NETL will use this information to further develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes of project managers.

Technical Expertise vs. Project Management Expertise

NETL has long prided itself on its technical expertise in diverse areas relating to its mission to assure that U.S. fossil energy and environmental resources can meet increasing demand for affordable energy while seeking to limit, or reduce, environmental liabilities. This claim to technical expertise has been well founded. Typically, 27% of NETL scientists and engineers (including contractor support) have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), and 65% have either a Ph.D. or a Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Forty-seven percent of all NETL federal employees have either a Ph.D. or an M.S. The advanced degrees attest to the “technical” aspects of project management; i.e., the skills necessary to understand the subject matter of the projects being managed. The advanced degrees also represent formal academic achievement in a wide range of technical disciplines. However, the degrees per se do not attest to any expertise in modern project management.

Historically, NETL hired scientists and engineers with industrial or institutional experience and the potential to be good project managers. However, the individual's background in most cases featured little or no experience in the tools and techniques of modern project management. Professional development of NETL project managers was largely accomplished by “hands-on” experience, in-house training programs (such as the series on Total Quality Management), required training courses (such as training for Contracting Officer Representative [COR]), and occasional group project management courses taken by individuals interested in gaining formal training in project management. Other than the COR training, no formal training in project management has been required. NETL has therefore embraced the “halo effect;” i.e., a person who does well in one area of endeavor (engineering and or scientific investigation) is competent in another area (project management).

General Recommendations

Project Management Guide

The team considers building the project management guidelines in a series of five building blocks to ensure that NETL project managers have a basis for execution of their projects. This guidance will help project managers understand the strategic management linkage from projects to the department's and NETL‘s mission and general project management philosophy that reflects the life cycle of a program and project. The guide will include a project management model covering the expectations of the OPM with regard to life-cycle management, effective communications, quality results, and self-improvement. The fourth area will discuss project management processes similar in structure to the PMBOK® Guide. Lastly, the guidance will provide the NETL processes related to initiation, planning, executing, controlling, and closeout of a project.

The team believes that this document should be developed and reduced to writing by multiple teams that have specific expertise in a multitude of the project management areas. A computer-based document with references, hotlinks, etc. toward additional information or currently developed processes, such as the NETL COR Handbook that is already computer-based. The expectation is that templates, flowcharts, examples, and other detailed reference information could be quickly downloaded to assist the project managers.

In a presentation made to OPM senior staff, the executive sponsor requested that additional information, such as a work breakdown structure dictionary be provided to assist in evaluating the resources required writing the formal guidance. The team accepted this action.


Although a departmental requirement for project management certification may not be established nor implemented within the coming 2001 calendar year, NETL should develop a certification standard, at least internally, to promote and encourage project managers to seek improvement of their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. A pilot group should be subjected to the standards developed.

As part of the certification effort, project managers and the NETL corporate organization should be encouraged to seek professional affiliation with project management organizations. This will promote staying abreast of current activities and issues external to NETL and internal/external to the government. NETL project managers should be encouraged to support the development and presentation of technical papers, attend internal and external project management conferences, and participate in committees such as PMI‘s Specific Interest Groups (SIGs)—one of which focuses on governmental project management issues.

One issue to be dealt with in the future is the ability to support this encouragement from a fiscal standpoint. If requirements for project managers are directed for certification, will it be the fiscal responsibility of the individual or the department to attain the certification? Yet, the team believes that some internal training programs can be established in the interim to seek enhancement of NETL project managers. A specific follow-on group will be required to evaluate certification and training. However, the ultimate decision will be senior management's in light of limited resources to implement a program for an estimated 100 project managers at the NETL.

Road Map

As the final portion of the team's activities, a road map was developed covering four general areas that include an OPM and NETL senior management decision process for developing the guidance, the physical writing of NETL project management system guidance, the determination and establishment of requirements for certification, and a timeline for providing some interim training. Even with an aggressive schedule, the team believes the noted activities would not be available for full implementation until January 2002. Resource loads with respect to year-end procurement actions were discussed with OPM senior staff but not resolved.


Project management is a management discipline and is the principle means for dealing with product, service, or process change. In order to understand this discipline, a project manager must depend on four competencies. First is having the knowledge of project management theories, concepts, and practices. This is the underlying foundation from which to build a good project manager. Second, the project manager should have the capability to use project management techniques and tools to obtain a result. Third, the project manager should have the capability to integrate the knowledge and the skills to obtain the result. And last, the project manager should have the capability to develop and maintain proper values, attitudes, and aspirations that work toward the betterment of the projects assigned.

Senior management appears ready to support the further development of a project manager's competencies and organizational competency. Establishing the framework or guidelines for NETL project management is the first step in improving chances of success for the project manager, the OPM organization, and NETL.


Dr. Cleland is currently the Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author/editor of 31 books in the fields of project management, engineering management, and manufacturing management. An active member of PMI, he has published numerous articles, handbook chapters, and presented many papers at professional meetings in his field. He has served as a consultant for both national and foreign companies, and has been described as the “Father of Project Management.”

Dr. Ireland is currently President of Lew Ireland & Associates, Monument, Colorado. He has more than 22 years of project management experience in several industries, technologies, and environments. His experience includes national and international projects that have their individual culture issues and challenges. Dr. Ireland has served as the Senior Project Management Advisor to the U.S. Navy on international agreements. He is a 20-year veteran of PMI and has served in positions ranging from Chapter President to the 1998 President and Chair of PMI.

National Research Council. 1999. Improving Project Management in the Department of Energy. National Academy Press.

Cleland, David I., & Ireland, Lewis R. 2000. Project Manager's Portable Handbook. McGraw-Hill.

U.S. Department of Energy. 1999. Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. OCRWM Program Business Plan, DOE/RW-0504.

General Accounting Office. 2000. Observations on the Department of Energy's Fiscal Year 1999 Accountability Report and Fiscal Year 2000/2001 Performance Plans, GAO/RCED-00-209R.

Department of Energy Order 413.3, Program and Project Management for the Acquisition of Capital Assets.

Department of Energy Order 430.1A, Life Cycle Asset Management (LCAM).

Archived Department of Energy Order 4700.1, Project Management System.

Archived Department of Energy Order 4700.4, Project Management Certification.

Department of Energy Good Practice Guides related to LCAM.

Department of Energy Order 241.1, Scientific and Technical Management.

Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center, Clean Coal Project Management Guide.

Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center. 1992. Project Control Guide.

Morgantown Energy Technology Center Contracting Officer's Representative Handbook (hardcopy and desktop versions).

Project Management Institute. 1996. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

Sandia National Laboratory. 1991. The Preferred Processes: Overview. Center for Project Management.

Sandia National Laboratory. 1991. The Preferred Process: Project Planning and Management. Center for Project


Sandia National Laboratory. 1991. Life Cycle of Project Management. Center for Project Management.

Sandia National Laboratory. 1991. Scheduling. Center for Project Management.

Sandia National Laboratory. 1992. Key Concepts and Terminology for Project Management Practitioners, Center for Project Management.

Sandia National Laboratory. 1991. Work Agreements: The Process for Getting Project Work Done, Center for Project Management.

Department of Energy Idaho Operations Office. 1999. ID Guide 430.A-1, Rev.1. Project Management Process Guide – For Construction Projects.

Westinghouse Government Services Group Project Management Guidelines.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA