The government runs on programs. Studies have shown effective program management saves the government time, and money. In a fiscal environment dominated by sequestration, how do program managers stay above the fray? In this four-part series we’ll take a look at managing schedule, cost, scope, and quality. We’ll give you valuable tips and feedback to help you move critical programs forward despite the challenges.

Part I: Project Schedule

Time is money. A project that stays on schedule usually stays within budget. The project schedule is the team road map – it builds out for contingencies, and anticipates challenges. Without it, it is easy to deliver late, over budget, and out of scope.

Project scheduling in an era of sequestration takes a whole new meaning. Budgets may change mid-contract, timelines may adjust as a result of furloughs or staffing challenges. Project plans today need to be dynamic and reflect internal and external pressures. Shifting budgets and changing priorities can be a risk to the schedule in two opposite ways. It can speed the project up or slow it down.

When the Client Has A Foot on the Gas Pedal…

In some cases, clients will be more anxious to have a project completed and “off their plates” before funding gets pulled. Other clients may not want the project to carry into another fiscal year with more uncertainties.

If your project has a client with his foot on the gas pedal, be ready to pull in some short-term recruits to meet the client expectations. Be poised to be responsive, by taking advantage of project management software or technologies. It isn’t necessary to use a fancy tool to develop a project schedule; however, it is smart to be sure the technology fits the project needs. You need to know the schedule drivers, include them in a plan, and develop a formula for schedule maintenance.

The second the client starts getting anxious to see project completion, the right scheduling tool will help management work together to have the right resources hired and aligned to get the job done. It’s also a good idea to check with your contract office to see if there are awards for delivering early, and identify ways to speed up delivery of the project. It’s a competitive market. Value-adds can help with re-competes or winning future work.

When the Client Has a Foot on the Brake…

As more and more federal employees retire, are furloughed, or are eliminated (as part of the reduction in force), communicating with end users, subject matter experts, and stakeholders becomes more challenging. Any slow downs from the client can disrupt or delay a project. Often, contractors have to request a Period of Performance extension due to end-users leaving and delays in getting a new user identified. It is important to have fallback plans for the team during periods of client delays, otherwise, continuing to work on the project without client involvement is a sure way to wind up out of scope and over budget.

One way to keep the project rolling during client turnover is to include internal SMEs who can keep a project rolling. By adding the necessary talent to the project team, you can ensure the team can operate independently of client changes. If internal SMEs are outside the project or company budget, seek to identify and build relationships with more than one end user. The PM needs to diversify client relationships. A client team that is too large can slow down the decision process; however, having backups available can keep the project moving, regardless of client turnover.

Agility Is Key

Sequestration and government shutdowns might be the new norm, but all is not lost for contractors. Skilled program managers are a must for companies who hope to compete and thrive in this uncertain market. PMI promotes talent management as a key way to excel. A good program manager will do well with normal PM skills, such as communication, scheduling, costing, team management, etc. However, while the budget waters are murky, a great PM finds a way to be agile to keep the project on schedule.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.