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Guiding challenging government projects to success


Government projects conducted in challenging conditions require trust, collaboration, communication, and project management acumen to succeed. Here are five recommendations for project success.

In today’s dynamic technical, business, and political environment, government projects often come with significant challenges, including undefined scope and unclear deliverables, rapidly changing influencing factors, diverse groups of busy stakeholders, and multiple vendors with work interdependencies. Although these generally are not optimal conditions in which to conduct a project, leaders often choose to move forward anyhow since doing so seems less risky than maintaining the status quo. And when faced with federal, state, or other mandatory requirements, leaders may be forced to move forward with projects they have not prioritized or planned for.

To facilitate success in such situations, projects need to abide by traditional project management best practices. They also demand a commitment to clear, open, and honest communication by all team members – government and vendor alike.

Five important activities to guide complex government projects toward success include:

  1. Create a culture of trust and collaboration: Establish trust and collaboration with the project team from the beginning, aligning disparate stakeholders by focusing on common project goals and objectives. Doing so lays the foundation for future project communications and decision making, which is particularly important if times get tough.
  1. Establish clear roles and responsibilities: Define roles and responsibilities early in the project to create a strong sense of ownership for assigned tasks. Doing so will ensure that government and vendor project teams avoid duplication of effort, while preventing work from ‘slipping through the cracks’. This also helps people focus on the right tasks at the right time, maximizing their involvement and minimizing their effort so they may effectively continue their ‘day job’.
  1. Check in regularly: Hold regular checkpoints and work sessions to discuss the latest project information and changes in the current environment. This allows the team to make and document decisions to ‘correct course’ as needed, keeping the project headed toward its goals while minimizing time- and resource-consuming detours.
  1. Define — and redefine — outcomes: Regularly confirm that work products and targeted outcomes remain relevant as factors in the project environment change. As work progresses, it is essential to ensure that links between all vendor work products remain clear and efforts are integrated. If changes are needed, follow a formal change management process, allowing key stakeholders outside of the project team to weigh in on the requested changes and document approved changes for posterity.
  1. Communicate risks openly: Understand that risks are a normal and healthy part of any project and openly discuss them. When risks are identified early, without fear of repercussion, they are more likely to be addressed promptly, preventing them from turning into issues that negatively impact project success.

By integrating traditional project management practices with an unyielding commitment to transparency, collaboration, and communication, even the most challenging of government projects may achieve success and deliver tangible, valuable outcomes.

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