Can the government learn from project management principles? Maybe. The problem is that the system is so deep in "process" that it seldom gets things done in an efficient manner. Here are some project management lessons that would help government.
1. Inspect What you Expect:
Whatever your politics, most people can agree that the recent rollout of the healthcare website, Healthcare.gov, has been a debacle, and it seems that many in the president's administration were not expecting this. Were the leaders of this project staying on top of what was happening? It was a very important project to the current administration's agenda - too important to mess up.
2. Work Together to Achieve Synergy:
Government agencies and groups generally seem to be gridlocked, either with indecision or disagreement. If agencies and departments were forced to work together to achieve synergy, we would all save money and government employees would be happier and more productive.
3. Make Staffing and Project Decisions Based on Ability, not Seniority:
A well-known fact is that in government work, seniority is everything. Unfortunately, promotions and hiring decisions are too often based on archaic rules that dictate that seniority rules the day. This will usually be disastrous. Length of time at a job rarely determines knowledge, ability, and especially doesn't determine initiative.
4. Pay by the Job, not by the Number of Hours People Sit in Chairs:
It's really difficult to get fired from a government job. The process that managers have to go through in order to dismiss an employee is astonishing. It can take months, and even with sufficient evidence, a committee may rule in favor of an errant employee. This predictably makes people complacent and in some cases, less motivated. If the government could adopt performance-based payment systems, government employees would be more productive.
5. Eliminate Steps in Processes:
Notorious for "red tape," government process are a nightmare. Ordering a box of pens can sometimes have to pass through as many as five different hands: staff who need pens places order, department clerk in charge of ordering pens process order, office manager approves and hands it to the department head, department head puts his stamp on it and passes it on to procurement, procurement officer places the order. And then someone has to pay the bill. Too much. Can the office manager not have a department credit card for going to an office supply store and buying pens? Probably not.
6. You get What you Pay For:
Ever wonder about rocket ships that are being launched with parts bought from the lowest bidder? Is cheapest always best. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if something is cheaper, corners are being cut somewhere. If government agencies were more empowered with options and choices, a lot of government waste could be eliminated.
7. Understand the Value of Incentives:
If you go around interviewing government employees, chances are you won't be struck by their excitement and enthusiasm for their jobs. They've been demoralized over the years with layoffs and furloughs, very few promotions, the public tends to have a poor image of "public servants," and they're seldom well paid. Why not pull some HR best practices into government agencies and create an environment for people to enjoy their jobs more?
The government is slow to change, unfortunately. However, some of these practices can be implemented by managers, and remember: every change starts with an idea. It can happen.