Government Projects: Are They Really So Different?

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Managing government projects is a unique challenge. The argument has been made by many (including me) that all projects are alike in nature. While this is true, it is only accurate to the extent that you maintain a level abstraction of the projects. At a summary level, the approach to managing projects is quite similar even if the process of building the results is very different. At 30,000 feet, all water looks drinkable as well. It’s when we get into the details that differences emerge.
 
One of the single most significant attributes associated with government projects, however, is that they are unabashedly political. Government departments and organizations willingly concede that projects exist and are defined because of political demands, and that there are political expectations regarding their results. While private sector projects are often no less political in nature, they are much more likely to be wrapped in a veneer of rationality.
 
With the politics of government projects also comes the demands of stakeholders, and there are often a diverse number of them--politicians, executives, government staff as well as specific groups of the public and the citizenry at large--who have expectations of what projects are to deliver. The process of stakeholder engagement is a crucial one in managing government projects, but it is also one that is fraught with …

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