Government Projects Are Different: Discuss

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.

The perception that government projects are different is widely held. There is a broad belief that government responds to different drivers, has different priorities, has a different view of process and a different view of what matters in delivering results and evaluating success. Moreover, and perhaps most amusingly, this view is held as much by managers in the public sector as it is in the private sector.

Public sector managers as a collective whole are pretty much convinced that the private sector has an edge on managing projects well. The presumption is that the management of projects in the private sector is more efficient, more competent and more capable. Private sector organizations largely seem to have the same presumption.

And it is true that government projects are different. But not in the disparaging and dismissive way that some argue (even elsewhere on this site). While it is wrestling with an entirely different animal to successfully manage the delivery of government projects, I would argue those that do it well are some of the best project managers I know.

In order to understand why this is the case, it’s important to appreciate where differences actually exist—and what those differences mean in managing projects. The first and most significant difference—and one that should be screamingly obvious in relative terms—is that many …

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