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Linda Cureton
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5 Program Management Lessons From

Former NASA CIO Linda Cureton offers five ways agencies can manage IT programs more effectively in 2014.

Greenberg relates the success of a former GSA chief who realized that it was easier to change GSA policy than to control legislation. He began to implement new policies that reduced procedural burdens on customers of the Public Building Service. He used bureaucracy to change the bureaucracy that resulted in a much-needed cultural change.

5. Invest and nurture courageous leadership.
Courage is the strength to stand and persevere in the face of difficulty, fear, or hardship. Courageous leadership delivers bad news, confronts challenges head-on, and leads profound change.

One of history's best counterexamples of courageous leadership can be found in the behavior of ancient Roman emperor Nero. Whether or not he literally or figuratively "fiddled while Rome burned," he was notorious for his callous disregard for addressing the serious problems of the Roman Empire. Nero was obsessed with popularity and implemented disastrous economic policies in order to maintain political favor. Thousands of years have not made courageous leadership more common, sadly.

As we make personal resolutions to lose weight or quit smoking this new year, we are faced with the inevitable realization that the personal changes required are very difficult. Making the requisite changes to improve program management in government is no less difficult.

Resolving to have effective program management will require difficult changes in government leadership in government, especially given the slowness of the government tempo, the need for transparency, and the aversion to risk from all stakeholders.

But government has to change and programmatic leadership must step up to face problems, which are getting bigger and more difficult to solve. We, the people, need a successful government and we need the courageous leadership of federal program managers to deliver a better bureaucracy to all of us.

Linda Cureton is the former CIO of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and is now CEO of Muse Technologies, Inc., specializing in IT transformation.

These five higher education CIOs are driving critical changes in an industry ripe for digital disruption. Also in the Chiefs Of The Year issue of InformationWeek: Stop bragging about your Agile processes and make them better. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 11:56:14 AM
Fighting bureaucracy
"He used bureaucracy to change the bureaucracy that resulted in a much-needed cultural change." That is a trick many private sector IT leaders would like to make use of occasionally, as well. Good to keep in mind when you are banging your head against the wall about bureaucracy.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 12:12:02 PM
ROI measured in politics
The money line here in my book is "In government, the currency by which we measure return-on-investment is politics." Had this been the guiding measurement in the case with or Minnesota's MNsure health exchange site, there would have been more testing before these insurance exchange sites were launched. It's early days, so hopefully more customers and competition will lead to lower costs. 
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 12:47:46 PM
Re: ROI measured in politics
Ah, but didn't a political ROI -- meeting Obamacare deadlines to show that the program was on schedule and on course -- drive both the feds and Minnesota to launch their sites before they were ready?
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 4:12:47 PM
Re: ROI measured in politics
Doug, I agree, Cureton's observation "that the currency by which we measure return-on-investment is politics" is what sets government apart from the private sector, and should have sparked warning flares. My hunch is that a number of folks miscalculated the risk and ROI equation before it was too late.

User Rank: Strategist
1/6/2014 | 8:32:56 PM
Public administration lags
The best program managers for government projects are not going to come from the private sector, contrary to popular belief. We have a two-realm country, with public and private sectors equally important. The rollout reflects the fact that for many years the public sector hasn't received the investment, talent and cirtical-minded leadership that it's needed to perform well. The imbalance mayh now have been addressed at It awaits addressing in many other sectors. When you look at the bipartisan leadership that stepped up in this country and in the UK at the outbreak of World War II, it makes our present day efforts look decidedly unheroic.
User Rank: Author
1/7/2014 | 10:33:04 AM
Re: Public administration lags
Charlie, good points. The polarization of American politics, nationally, and increasingly at the state level, between Red and Blue states, makes it so much harder to find workable answers to problems like Health care.  But it's also made it harder to find competent government program managers willing to deal with the political turbulance and the frequent lack of executive and financial support they need to deliver on programs.
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 12:12:32 AM
Success and Failure
Yes, failure is always an option. Especially when there isn't enough time, money or staff. And anyone who is put in this position is being set up for failure, unless he or she has set themselves up, by saying that they can do it without knowing or caring about what they're going up against.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
1/8/2014 | 11:14:58 AM
CIO courage
If I'm reading this right, one of the impreratives is for CIOs or project managers to have the courage to stand up and say "no" to unreasonable deadlines and halfbaked plans, making a stink about it if necessary.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/10/2014 | 11:06:19 AM
Re: CIO courage
Unfortunately, that's not how it works. If you "do the right thing" and tell upper management "no", you'll simply be thrown out by the shareholders, replaced with someone who WILL maximize profits for the investors at the expense of everyone down the chain.
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