Implementing a project management culture in a government organization

Beth Rigby, PMP, Project Manager/Quality Management Specialist, Michigan Office of Project Management

Introduction: A Public Sector Movement to a Project Orientation

Project management is at the heart of nearly every government business performance improvement initiative. The reason is clear. Scrutiny for government project management extends far beyond a government organization's internal customers to its citizens, its political appointees, and even to the United States Congress.

In addition there are several trends in the business of government that are contributing to the public sector movement toward a project orientation.

• A significant portion of the government's work is being outsourced to commercial entities. Therefore, government workers must transition from functional management responsibilities to project management. Project management is important to ensure that work under a contract is on time, within budget, and to the government's specifications.

• Government organizations are using project management to enhance efficiency and demonstrate their own viability. Good government project management means that work cannot necessarily be done better by a commercial entity.

• Competition exists for work between government organizations. For example, a government organization is no longer obligated to use its own Facilities Management group; they could go, and have gone, to another Facilities Management organization with their requirements. Project management provides a framework for better and consistent customer service.

• The size of the federal civilian workforce has declined by 19% since 1985. In addition to shrinking, the workforce is aging and considering retirement. Middle managers need project management skills to handle increased workloads and increasingly complex programs.

• Government organizations are being called upon to provide 24-hour, secure, access for citizens. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in highly visible, complex information technology projects.

Effective project management is the key to maximizing any organization's business opportunities and in meeting its challenges. It will enable the government workforce to meet time, cost, and performance constraints, while focusing on its customers' satisfaction.

A Proven Model for Implementing a Enterprisewide Project Management Culture

Implementing project management across an organization, both as a set of skills and as an integral component of an enterprise, is a significant endeavor that involves multiple coordinated activities and efforts. Based on nearly 20 years of practicing and teaching the discipline, ESI has identified the critical components needed to develop a best-in-class project management culture. The model presents a strategic view of project management best practice initiatives that ESI's clients have implemented in their project management improvement efforts.

Explanations of the elements of ESI's Project Management Practice Model are provided below.

Education and Training

Project management education and training are often the first initiative in a performance improvement effort. In fact, training and education are the foundation of a successful culture change initiative. Project management professionals' skills and competencies are critical to successful project management in that projects will be more efficient when everyone has a common vocabulary and a common base of knowledge. Equally as important, the training should be mapped to career opportunities in an organization to ensure that training is applied back on the job.

Exhibit 1. ESI's Project Management Practice Model (*Strategic Oversight; **Center of Competence)

ESI's Project Management Practice Model (*Strategic Oversight; **Center of Competence)

Maturity and Capability Assessments

Organizations should quantitatively and qualitatively understand what their current capabilities and weaknesses are to develop a targeted, continuous improvement plan. A project management assessment can help to:

• Identify relevant organizational strengths and weaknesses in project management capability

• Establish a project management capability baseline on which to measure return on investment

• Develop project-based functions with predictable results

• Apply continuous improvement to project management efforts

• Create an effective and viable project management structure

• Establish uniform principles and processes that are integrated through the organization.

Methodology Development

A standard and repeatable process is key to successful project management. A project management methodology will integrate all of the processes, activities, and tools required to assist project managers in successfully completing projects on time and within budget. Some of the benefits of a methodology are:

• Processes that are consistent and repeatable across projects and across the organization

• No “reinvention” of project tools and techniques for every project

• Access to shared project historical data, experience, and best practices

• Monitoring achievement of critical project management deliverables

• A common frame of reference for project management responsibilities among all project stakeholders

• Roll-up/summarization of project reporting from project teams to project managers to leadership.

Project Execution Support

It is critical that project managers have support in applying new skills and techniques on their actual projects. One way to ensure support is through the use of coaches and mentors who can transfer facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills to actual project work. These resources can be internal or external to the organization and support the application of sound project management practices back on the job.

Whether internal or external to the organization, project execution support should be centralized under a Center of Competence or a Project Management Office to ensure accessibility to every project manager. Typical support includes the following:

• Facilitating project kickoff meetings and other project team meetings

• Working with the project manager and project team to refine project plans

• Reviewing project plan documents as they evolve

• Helping project team members use project methods, tools, and software

• Coaching project managers in project management techniques, team formation or leadership practices.

Center of Competence

Project Management Offices, Centers of Competence, or Program Offices provide a strategic link to the operational areas of an organization and facilitate the integration of project and corporate objectives. A Center of Competence guides organizations in how to manage multiple projects simultaneously by identifying support requirements throughout project life cycles. Following are some of the benefits for constructing a center of competence:

• Creation of central project oversight and control

• Reduction in project disarray and greater project success

• Improvement in project and business integration

• Accessibility to project management technical expertise and support.

Strategic Oversight

Strategic oversight establishes and maintains executive involvement in the project management process. It provides executives and senior managers with a tool for aligning project activity with and organization's strategic business interests and objectives. Through strategic oversight, executives and senior managers are able to efficiently and effectively assess their organization's projects and programs through the establishment of phases and decision points designed to assure project alignment with business strategy, resource utilization processes, budgets and schedules.

Thankfully, an increasing number of organizations have recognized that to implement project management across the enterprise requires more than promoting and using new procedures and conducting training courses. Implementing a project management culture requires changing people's approach to work. In a government organization, this enterprise-wide implementation and culture change is even more challenging! But the State of Michigan did it right.

Michigan Office of Project Management—They Did it Right

The story of Michigan's Office of Project Management is an example of how a government organization implemented several of the initiatives that are a part of ESI International's Project Management Practice Model. This section provides an overview of the evolution of enterprisewide project management in Michigan to include the business drivers for change, the process, and the lessons learned.

Michigan Business Drivers for Change

The business drivers for change in the State of Michigan were not unlike the trends that are driving other government organizations to transform their organizations to project management cultures. Specifically, Michigan highlights four specific drivers that supported their process improvement initiative. They were:

1. The Michigan information technology project success rate reflected the national commercial corporate experience. The majority of Michigan information technology projects were behind schedule and/or over budget.

2. There was continuous reinventing and redundancy in project processes across Michigan state agencies. Agencies were not leveraging each other's successes. There was no sharing of templates or lessons learned from one project to the next within an agency, or across agencies.

3. Michigan departments or offices within departments who saw value in project management developed their own pockets of expertise and customized them for that area. The result was inconsistent project management approaches across the state.

4. The nature of information technology projects in the state was changing. Projects were becoming larger and more complex. The Michigan web portal required merging and integration of multi-agency business and applications.

Exhibit 2. Michigan's Project Management Office Model

Michigan's Project Management Office Model

While changing culture in a government environment is a challenge, the Michigan Office of Project Management did it right. Working with ESI International, Michigan built a model for professional project management that drove enterprisewide change and addressed the business drivers for change.

Building Enterprisewide Project Management in Michigan

Initially, Michigan's goal was to increase the success rate of information technology-based projects. The strategy was to create and centralize processes and standards for a core state Project Management Office, utilizing outside project management expertise on large projects that would produce “quick wins” for the Agencies. These successes would then create visibility around project management.

As a result, the Michigan Office of Project Management was established in May 1999. The model for Michigan's Office of Project Management is provided in Exhibit 2.

The process for building enterprisewide project management in Michigan evolved in two stages. First, they created a project management base and infrastructure to begin to establish a project management culture in the state. Second, they built project management depth, breadth and support with the goal of integrating project management into the state's daily business activities—in other words, make project management a “way of life” in the business of Michigan government. A detailed explanation of the two stages is provided in the sections below.

Stage 1. Create Project Management Base and Infrastructure

The components of Stage 1 created the project management base and infrastructure for the State. There were seven separate initiatives that comprised Stage 1 as follows:

1. A core team was established to define and build the project management framework for the State. Initial responsibility was to provide the mission and vision for the Office of Project Management.

2. A pool of project manager resources was hired from outside the state. As a result, skilled project managers were placed on large, complex projects for visible successes.

3. The Office of Project Management established a procurement process to expedite Department identification and selection of contractor project manager resources. Several of the usual roadblocks for securing project manager resources were eliminated through this contract vehicle.

4. A project management training program was defined in the fall of 1999. Diligent analysis and interviewing by the work group resulted in the selection of ESI International as the core provider of project management training. The Michigan/ESI partnership has met every project management training expectation in terms of the quality of the courseware, the instructor staff, and the flexibility and adaptability applied in partnering with the State in continuing to build an excellent training program.

5. Michigan's standard project management methodology was released in May of 2000. The Methodology is the core of a consistent project discipline across the state. It defines standard and repeatable processes, templates and expectations for project approach. It identifies and reinforces use of consistent terminology and project language across groups. In addition, it reduced project management process reinventing and duplication, and promotes knowledge and process transfer as resources change from project to project.6. A local Project Management Institute Chapter was established in Lansing organized by the Office of Project Management staff in conjunction with other area businesses. This initiative provided an opportunity for networking and leveraging project management experience across business and industry.

7. A centralized forum was created through the Michigan Office of Project Management website This website is used to promote Statewide project management and to provide information on project management.

Overall the intent of Stage 1 was to begin to build a project management culture in the State of Michigan by putting a framework in place.

Stage 2. Build Project Management Depth, Breadth, and Support

Michigan focused on initiatives that would contribute to expanding a successful project management program and culture in Stage 2. The three initiatives in Stage 2 are still evolving and are focused on integrating project management into daily business activities and driving toward making project management processes habit for information technology managers in the State. Following are the three Stage 2 initiatives:

1. Michigan continues to maintain focused diligence on project management process as seen by its May 2001 revision of the methodology and integration of methodology and tools.

2. The Office of Project Management works continuously to identify additional project management training to address new project management learning areas and gaps. This effort includes addressing the project management learning needs of support staff and management throughout the State.

3. Michigan is now focusing on creating a Center of Excellence that will be a forum for leadership. The Center of Excellence will also focus on integrating the application of the methodology, tools, and training with lessons-learned, best practices, and knowledge transfer. As the development environment continues to evolve at the State, the Center of Excellence will be tasked with maintaining consistency and leveraging shared project management experiences across project teams. Recognition for project excellence, repositories for project techniques and process for project management evaluation and continuous improvement will also reside in the Center of Excellence. In addition to the initiatives implemented by the Michigan Office of Project Management, the Governor of Michigan, John Engler, recently established a centralized Department of Information Technology. With all information technology related projects and staff in a single Department, the need for a strong project management culture is even more critical. A common understanding of project management and development life cycle processes throughout the state will be the key factor in the integration into the new Department.

Michigan Office of Project Management—Lessons Learned

Michigan has built a foundation that should allow the State to move into the new information technology project development environment with successful project results. However, changing the culture has been painful and slow. There are some key lessons that Michigan has learned in its three-year evolution toward a projectized business model:

1. The sequence of project management implementation initiatives is important. Project managers need to understand the theory and concepts behind a tool and methodology if they are going to use it.

2. Strong Executive support is crucial to both during the concept phase of a project management culture change and throughout the implementation.

3. Agency involvement is important to ensure buy-in during implementation.

4. The establishment of a continuous improvement practices should, at the outset, include a definition of milestones and deliverables into core infrastructure processes.

5. Let patience, persistence and repetition be the slogan. Expect and recognize baby steps because culture change cannot be hurried.


The demand for good project management in Michigan is even more evident today than it was three years ago. Projects continue to become more complex and cross multiple agencies. There is a move toward “citizen-centric” business management. These initiatives dictate a consistent and repeatable approach to business that is focused on the customer—the essence of professional project management.

As evidence of Michigan's position at the forefront of enterprisewide project management, nine states and three commercial organizations have adopted the Michigan project management methodology and are seeking their counsel!

Government business trends continue to drive organizations to consider adopting an enterprisewide project management approach—and with it comes the realization accomplishing this culture transformation is a significant endeavor. Michigan realized this early in the game—and did it right.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



Related Content

  • PMI Sponsored Research

    Equality, Diversity, and Inclusiveness in the Field of Project Management member content open

    By Gardiner, Paul | Alkhudary, Rami | Druon, Marie This report presents the results of an SLR conducted to collect and synthesize the extant literature on EDI in the field of project management.

  • Project Management Journal

    Befriending Aliens member content locked

    By Matinheikki, Juri | Naderpajouh, Nader | Aranda-Mena, Guillermo | Jayasuriya, Sajani | Teo, Pauline Public–private partnerships (PPPs) achieve legitimacy in the form of social acceptance from diverse audiences and stakeholders.

  • Project Management Journal

    Sifting Interactional Trust through Institutions to Manage Trust in Project Teams member content locked

    By Farid, Parinaz This article explores mechanisms to facilitate the development of interactional and institutional trust and explicating the interplay between those mechanisms.

  • Project Management Journal

    Why Do Business Organizations Participate in Projects? member content locked

    By Zerjav, Vedran Drawing on project value research, we aim to build a contextual understanding of why businesses choose to participate in projects.

  • Pulse of the Profession

    Beyond Agility member content open

    By Project Management Institute In unprecedented times, organizations are delivering remarkable change. Amid a global pandemic and deep economic woes, they have found new ways of working and have improved project performance.…