Project Management in Government

This blog will explore topics in my journey as a Project and Portfolio Manager in the Public Sector. The focus will be on Project Management topics that support "Better Government", Innovation and Challenges.

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Recent Posts

Project Management is Not Enough…

Demystifying Scope Creep

Setting Your Career Course in Government

A Risk is a Risk is a Risk

Project Management is Not Enough…

Report on North American Leadership Institute Meeting in San Diego Sept 2016
By Winnie Liem, Director of Communities for Southern Ontario Chapter

Project Management is Not Enough…

Were the words of Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, this year’s Chair of the PMI Board of Directors.

For many in the room, this statement rocked the very core of their professional existence. Was PMI giving up? What lies ahead for us as project professionals and volunteers?

As a volunteer with PMI since 2012, I have seen the organization transform itself more than once and move the yardstick ahead by its commitment to grow the profession and to innovate -- based on solid research (Pulse of the Profession® and Thought Leadership).

Mark Langley (President and CEO, PMI) went on to explain PMI’s envisioned goal that “Worldwide organizations will embrace, value and utilize Project Management and attribute their success to it” by focusing on 3 markets: (1) Practitioners (2) Organizations (3) Academics.

The Practitioner market is easy to relate to as a chapter leader, since we need to continually focus on the evolving needs of our membership. Common themes evolved around how chapters need to innovate and prioritize areas of greatest impact.

South New England Chapter lead the way by developing programs that would have the greatest impact on member retention, while the Montreal Chapter introduced Personas to profile its major user groups. The London UK chapter aligned its programming to the Talent Triangle, to help practitioners track PDUs with ease.

Focusing on Organizations, PMI is continually working with corporate partners to promote how organizational maturity in project, program and portfolio practices will help organizations to reduce risk, cut costs and produce better business outcomes. Imagine in the near future the establishment of a “Chief Project Officer” role in every organization, aligned with organizational objectives.  

Perhaps the largest area of potential growth is in the Academic Market. Note that by 2020, half of our workforce will be millennials. The challenge for most chapters is being adaptable and agile in how it engages and attracts people from the young generation. When engaging our volunteers who are millennials, do we clearly articulate the purpose of their work? Millenials respond better when we inspire and articulate goals and vision rather than instructional. Another ideal way to engage the younger generation is to tap into the work being done with the PMIef, whose motto is Project Management for Social Good®.

PMIeF is a charitable nonprofit organization that develops and delivers innovative programs and educational resources including scholarships, grants and awards that strengthen both teaching and learning.    

Finally, as volunteer leaders and project managers we need to strive to become the Leaders We Wish We Had.

According to Simon Sinek, our biology (Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin) plays a major role in our journey to becoming a great leader and the mistake many leaders make is focusing on RESULTS rather than the PEOPLE. Simon says Leadership is a Choice and we need to choose to be the leader we wish we had. 

Vinh Giang captured our imagination through his magical abilities, and reinforced through his personal experiences the importance of Perspective, Influence and our Beliefs. Vinh challenged us to continually gather new perspectives, surround ourselves with the best mentors and to stay on course with our beliefs.

Mel Robbins gave us the courage to take a step towards our goals with her simple yet effective 5 Second Rule, which pushes us to act on our goals by counting down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and GO!

Attending LIM is truly a highlight of being a PMI volunteer. Aside from the knowledge and networking gained through 4 days of sessions and keynotes, there were phenomenal opportunities to meet the superstars of the PM profession and make connections that would be life changing. Having met PM professionals from every continent, I was assured that when visiting abroad, I could look up a local chapter and be warmly welcomed.

If I were to approach Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez again, I would tell him that “Project Management IS enough”, as it is the foundation for so many possibilities. I encourage you to sharpen your skills in the areas of the Talent Triangle and to explore where volunteerism can take you. 

Posted on: October 10, 2016 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Demystifying Scope Creep

Why is Scope Creep a bad word in Project Management?

Scope creep is described as the process by which a project grows beyond its originally anticipated size.

Aren't we told that when a project is initiated to expect there to be a -25 - +75% variance or rough order of magnitude for our estimates? Aren't we also expected to refine our requirements (e.g. progressive elaboration) throughout the project? So why does scope creep have such a stigma?

Yet, time and time again, I hear how Project Managers are tasked to “tow the line” on scope creep.

Being an avid learner and an advocate on my projects to “Do the Right Things” vs “Doing Things Right”, I want to explore some of the best ways to demystify Scope Creep and offer my top 3 tips on scope management.

Nailing Your Requirements

The common pattern I find on projects is the lack of emphasis on “Good Requirements”. I can back this up with multiple statistics that support that “Poor Requirements management practices are the second leading cause of project failure, second only to changing organization priorities”1.

At a Lessons Learned session I facilitated recently, I wanted to get to the bottom of why a project went from an original schedule of 1 year for completion to over 3 years. When defining high level requirements for a project, the challenge is to produce requirements that are “Just Right” (not too detailed and not too high level or vague). In my opinion, therein lies the most important ingredient to building a scope definition that sets your project up for success. I used a simple example of a requirement to “Buy a Sweater”-- this requirement leaves a lot of room for variance and misinterpretations, whereas if your goal was more specific and spoke to a desired outcome (e.g. Own a Purple Sweater), at least you know that if you achieve this goal, the consumer would be happy, regardless of the means to get there.

Delivering Value

Not all things are equal on a project and this will only be discovered by nurturing close partnerships with your clients. One of my pet peeves is Project Managers who use too much lingo. Terms that are over used are “We are Agile/Lean” and “That’s not in scope, you need a Change Request”.  I much prefer speaking to my clients in “plain speak” and continuously redirecting my clients to think of their project goals and having honest conversations with them on prioritizing their needs. Especially in the government setting where there is ever changing organizational priorities -- business should more eager to show that their project will offer value early. We are spending public coin in most cases. My project later admitted it could have been done in 1 year, but they got distracted with reaching “perfection”.

Risk Management

One of the most neglected areas in project management is Risk Management. You can read my past article with Project Management Institute® on Risk Management and note that in general Risk Management is not considered “sexy”, so unfortunately project managers will spend more time managing issues.

A Risk is defined in a project typically as “Something that can go wrong” or “Something that may or may not happen”. To quote the PMBOK® Guide, a project risk is “an uncertain event or condition that, it if occurs has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives”. Project objectives include scope, schedule, cost and quality.  

I deploy a more proactive approach to risk management where I will: (1) Manage High Risk items early in the project and (2) Bring forward lessons learned from past projects to ensure I do not encounter the same mistakes again. Statistics show that managing risks earlier in a project is less costly than having to deal with it later in the project.


I wanted to present a more balanced view on scope creep and remove the stigma that comes with this topic, as it is in general a divisive topic. Analyzing some of the causes of scope creep mentioned above, I hope you agree that we need to do more than “Tow the Line”.


(1)    2015 Project Management Institute. Business Analysis for Practitioners:  A Practice Guide

Posted on: March 26, 2015 05:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Setting Your Career Course in Government

Last year I wrote a blog for Government Job Seekers called: “Chasing that Elusive Government Job1”.

On the tail of Microsoft’s CEOs2 famous blunder in addressing the topic of women asking for raises, his comments (although innocent) struck a chord in me and made me reflect on my career in a male dominated industry (30% of Project Managers globally are female3 and even fewer choose a career in technology4) and how I did have to rely other factors besides Faith.   

Whether I am trying to carve out my own career path or helping another, I would like to share some tips on setting your career course in Government.

Focus on Delivering Value

Be deliberate in the work you choose to put your focus on each day. Put your energy on  those tasks that add the highest value. If you want to advance, develop your ability to be “curious”. For example, ask questions when things don’t make sense and try to put your mind into the “innovation” space. Individuals who are in this mindset are the ones who typically get noticed for promotions

Be Organization-Agnostic

It is easy to follow the “steps” or career advancement tracks within your organization, however will these have any meaning outside of your organization? In the US Civil service they predominantly use a GS5 pay scale. How marketable are your skills? Take the opportunity to meet with people outside your organization (e.g. recruiters, senior leaders in other organizations) and see how your resume stacks up. Recognize skills that would make you valuable OUTSIDE of your current organization. There is no time better than the present to plan to build up those vital skillsets that are industry agnostic (e.g. PMP6, Prince27, ITIL8, etc.).

Embrace Who You Are

Attending this years PMI Leadership Institute Meeting9, I heard Tom Peters10 put it best that “Women’s Strengths Match New Economy Imperatives” with a leadership style that favours relationship building, embraces diversity. Women are naturally better listeners and are comfortable in sharing information vs. the more hierarchical style of males.

I have also read (in a recent report11) that the women working in the public sector are less likely to face wage discrimination vs. their private sector counterparts.

The chips are stacked in our favour as females, so embrace who you are. To take it a step further, learn how to develop your Emotional Intelligence12 and your Self-Awareness13 by recognizing those things you may be doing that are holding you back and then make the necessary adjustments.

Go That Extra Mile

Take the opportunity to demonstrate to your superiors that you are ready for more responsibility by going beyond what is required in your day-to-day job. If given the opportunity, volunteer to take on those challenging projects. Part and parcel with going that extra mile may also include taking the opportunities to build your network. For job seekers, remember that 80%14 of jobs are still found through networking.

Sometimes “Faith” needs a helping hand.

What are your tips to get ahead in your career (in or out of government)? How would you respond to Satya’s remarks? Looking forward to hearing your responses.

References Links






(6)     PMP:

(7)     PRINCE2:

(8)     ITIL:







Posted on: November 04, 2014 11:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Risk is a Risk is a Risk

Does it really matter what we put in our risk log? Can you stand the onslaught of critics who will tell you your risk list is “wrong” or do you rebut this criticism with the statement “A Risk is a Risk is a Risk”.

Although managing risks are a key cornerstone for project managers (PM), many PMs don’t give this process a fair shake. Some common symptoms that a project suffers from poor risk management are:

  • PM is routinely blind-sided by issues or is constantly in fire-fighting mode
  • Risks are recorded once and never looked at again
  • Risks are defined too high level or too low level
  • Risks are not linked to project objectives

A Risk is defined in a project typically as “Something that can go wrong” or “Something that may or may not happen”. To quote the PMBOK® Guide, a project risk is “an uncertain event or condition that, it if occurs has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives”. Project objectives include scope, schedule, cost and quality.  

Listed below are a few simple tips that will help make your risk list iron clad!

Be Clear on your Definition of Risks vs Issues

I recommend choosing a narrow definition of risks (may happen) and a broader definition of issues (has happened). The rule of thumb is if you are working on it, it is an issue.

Repurpose the list depending on your audience. For executive reporting and project charters, list only risks that are medium and above for likelihood and impact.

Make your Risks “Real”

You should be able to explain your risks according to its impact to the project objectives or triple constraints (scope, schedule, cost and quality)

What is your mitigation strategy? Risks give PMs an opportunity to plan ahead for things that will inevitably happen in your project

Scour Lessons Learned From Similar Projects to Populate your Risk List

Do you ever wonder why your organization keeps making the same predictable mistakes over and over again? I highly recommend watch this webinar on Pro-Active Risk Management on Government IT Projects by Dr. Robert Charette. Dr. Charette is considered by his peers as the grandfather of IT systems risk management.

Initiate forums in your organization to continuously learn and share stories with fellow peers in similar fields. Network with PMs on or if you are a Government PM GovLoop is an excellent resource

Learn How Agile Methodology Measures Risk

The Agile Methodology takes risks very seriously as Agile Projects are Value-Driven in nature and risks when then become issues erode value. There are two concepts in Risk Management in Agile that I found very helpful for risk planning, mitigation and avoidance:

  • Delivering High Risk Items early in project. This approach gets problems out in the open early where there is still room in the budget and schedule to work on them. For Software projects, one example would be to address “architecturally significant” or new technologies items early, like Proof-Of-Concepts.
  • Develop a Risk Adjusted Backlog. For risks that can be proactively addressed, risk response actions can be prioritized alongside functional features.

For a more in-depth look at how to improve your projects in this way, Michael Griffith wrote a concise chapter in his book on Value Driven Delivery1.

To sum up how Risks can be more “Real” for you as a project manager and for you to better communicate how important it is to GET GOOD at Risk Management, I will cite a government project I was involved in where I identified a significant risk “Failure due to poor product performance”. These are the steps I used to address this risk successfully:

  1. Defined the risk and measured the impact. Lessons learned from previous projects taught me that this type of risk is costly to tackle post production and more importantly will erode client confidence and lead to project failure and government embarrassment.
  2. Devised a strategy to tackle the risk early (began 6-8 months early). Assembled the necessary staff, vendors and Subject Matter Experts to solve this problem before it became an issue.

The result was that this risk was addressed successfully and mitigated alongside the product development and the client was unaware.

Reflecting now it seems risk management (unlike issues management) produces many unsung heroes. True, being a fire-fighter is glamorous; but I prefer not to get burned.

Welcome your tales of being an unsung hero and any tips that have helped you GET GOOD at Risk Management.


1.       PMI-ACPSM Exam Prep, Premier Edition, By Mike Griffith, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM

Posted on: October 06, 2014 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you place the blame."

- Oscar Wilde