“A lot of project failure is
related to cost, schedule
and performance, but
at the core of that is
What’s the best
advice you’ve ever
Do what you say
you’re going to do.
What’s your favorite
thing to do in your
I used to be a
I loved that to
accomplish that big
goal, you’ve got to be
disciplined to reach
That’s how we
What does the acquisition team do exactly?
The VA’s discretionary acquisition spend this
year is about US$20 billion. The acquisition team
ensures that money generates the proper supplies
and services at the best value. The right project and
program management experts have to be in place
to ensure the proper investment for delivering
services, whether they are offered through the
Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans
Benefits Administration or the National Cemetery
Administration. Those are the VA’s three primary
What does the Program Management
School’s training involve?
We have a core curriculum that covers project and
program management principles related to cost,
schedule and performance, and then we tailor those
principles so that they’re really relevant to the work
of the government. We also have a whole slew of
continuing education courses, like life-cycle cost
estimation, work breakdown structure and agile in
the federal government.
How does the academy address the need for
We weave those skills into courses, and we have
a PM Fellows program [project and program
management] with skills-building workshops where
our students are given hands-on activities. They get
feedback before they head back into their job.
What about training beyond the classroom?
In addition to the classroom curriculum, we deploy
teams of instructors to the field during crises to
help manage risks and get programs back on track.
For example, during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we
deployed a team to a flooded VA medical center to
manage risks to our assets there.
What’s a training program you’ve
implemented at the academy?
I started a critical thinking program. It helps the
team understand the assumptions we sometimes
make that are often flawed, the conclusions we
often draw from those flawed assumptions, and
the arguments we need to make to form business
cases. The teams work through those things in a
classroom setting before they’re in a state of crisis
on a project with tight constraints when tensions
How do you gauge whether academy courses
improve project managers’ performance?
One of the reasons most projects fail is poor
communication, so that’s one of the most
significant metrics we’re tracking. We’re seeing
great results from academy graduates: an 87 percent
increase in improved communication compared to
before their training. Also: an 81 percent increase
in program efficiency, a 55 percent reduction in
overall program cost and a 72 percent improvement
of timely delivery of services.
Can you offer a specific success story?
One program manager said that as a result of his
academy training he now focuses on the larger
acquisition strategy. He looks at the big picture
rather than several one-off contracts and is more
strategic in how he manages his contract portfolio.
And he believes he’s better able to communicate
with higher-level people in the organization. Rather
than going into a briefing and getting into the weeds
with details, he’s learned how to manage up to more
effectively get buy-in from senior leadership.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as
Making sure people continue to see the value
of maturing project and program management
capability throughout the department. Training is
an investment of money and time. Since we opened
our doors, 17 other government agencies have sent
employees to us, rather than other training sources.
That speaks volumes to the value of our curriculum.
What’s the greatest reward?
Helping wounded veterans move into a civilian
career. Our Warriors to Workforce program helps
veterans whose military careers were cut short
through service-connected disabilities. We give
them a strong foundation in program management,
and then they go into the field to support the care
and services we deliver to other veterans. Being a
part of that has been incredibly rewarding. PM