GAPP & Project Management

Data privacy is an important concern in project management. The administration of a project may involve collecting, handling, or storing information from a wide variety of sources. For example, in the software consulting industry, performing a mainframe migration for a client might involve access to large quantities of data on that client’s customers and/or employees. Almost all projects will have some data elements that are considered private or confidential. This means part of the planning and administration for a project should concern how to keep data secure and ensure it is used only in appropriate ways.

What Standards Apply?

There are many standards that could be used as a framework or starting point for these policies and procedures. The Generally Accepted Privacy Principles (GAPP) developed by the AICPA is one set of standards to consider. The level of stringency with which these principles are applied should correlate to the sensitivity of the data being handled. Here is an overview of a few of these principles and how they might be applied to the project management sphere.

Privacy Management

This is the overarching strategy that is developed to safeguard sensitive data. It includes the creation of policies and procedures for the privacy program. These policies and procedures must be documented and communicated to all relevant parties. Adequate resources should be assigned to put infrastructure elements in place that help ensure the achievement of policy objectives. Accountability must be assigned to those responsible for implementing and maintaining privacy so that there are well defined consequences for program failure. The management policy must also include monitoring to identify evolving risks or any new regulations that might affect the privacy policy and practices. In project management, privacy should be discussed as it relates to both communications planning and risk management.

Collection & Use Notices

Whenever any personal identifying information or other confidential data is collected, it should be made clear why the data is being collected and how it will be used. This is typically done through the presentation of some type of notice. The notice includes the contact information for the group or individual responsible for answering questions or resolving issues regarding how private information is collected or used. For project management, the topic of confidential or proprietary information is often covered in an NDA or similar contractual document. This represents a formal agreement to follow ethical privacy practices in not disclosing a client’s confidential data to any third party without express, prior written consent. The use, retention, and eventual disposal of such data may also be addressed.

Security of Privacy

This aspect of privacy management concerns the physical, procedural, and electronic steps your organization takes to safeguard privileged project management data. It should take into consideration the potential for and consequences of accidental and deliberate destruction, unauthorized access, disclosure, or other misuse. Any administrative, physical, and technical controls put in place should include a backup plan in case the personnel authorized to access the confidential project management data become unavailable. Privacy security safeguards should be tested at least once a year to ensure they are functioning as intended.

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Federal Project Management Report

As I mentioned in last week’s post, the American Society for the Advancement of Project Management sponsored a study on Federal Project Management: Understanding FAC-P/PM and Competency that has now been published on the ASAPM website. It discusses the purpose of certification for program and project managers. So far, the certification process has been focused primarily at the most senior PM levels. This has left something of a gap in developing entry and mid-level managers who constitute the pool from which tomorrow’s leaders will be drawn. Since these “ground troops” are responsible for much of the day to day project management at many levels of the federal government, they need to have the skills to achieve better near term results as well.

Federal PMs Had a Head Start; But Results are Still Uncertain

As some of the earliest adopters of PM methodology, the government is uniquely positioned to develop it further. However, there is still a critical need for better assessment of competencies and outcomes. Without this data, it’s impossible to tell which initiatives and approaches are working well and which ones need to be revamped.

FAC-P/PM was only instituted in 2007. According to the authors of the report, at this time there are relatively few agencies that are even fully aware of the ramifications of the program or how they should be leveraging it to create greater competency and ensure better project (and mission) results. So, the report spends less time evaluating what FAC-P/PM has accomplished so far and more on what still remains to be done.

Competency Takes Center Stage

The certification program is based around competency rather than simply knowledge acquisition. The recommendations at the end of the ASAPM report make it clear that this is the right approach and that it should be given even more importance. The 7 core FAC-P/PM competencies are:

  • Requirements Development Management Process
  • System Engineering
  • Test and Evaluation
  • Life Cycle Logistics
  • Acquisition/Contracting
  • Business Financial Management
  • Leadership Professional

This is a big change from the time period prior to 2007 when acquisition received all the attention. The government has realized that there’s a lot more to an actual project than simply what you buy. Interestingly, the GSA is one of the recent adopters of this more comprehensive approach to project management. The ASAPM urges them to take notes from early adopters such as the Treasury Department. Those agencies that have the most experience with this methodology have the best documented results and the greatest appreciation for what PM competency can achieve.

How Is Competency Defined?

It’s a combination of knowledge, experience, behaviors, and skills. Obviously, more than classroom training is required to become competent. Performance management, goal setting, and mentoring also play an important role in developing good project managers. Part of making the FAC-P/PM work will be determining an overarching strategy that can be used by all agencies.


Currently, a lack of inter-agency collaboration and widely varying standards still exist for PM development. These differences must be addressed to make both program implementation and data collection for results-based evaluation of individual projects more streamlined and effective.

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Project Management Organization News Roundup

From PMI to IPMA, the top project management organizations in the U.S. and around the world are keeping busy with their own projects and initiatives. Here are some news items to keep you up to speed with what’s happening in the industry’s professional associations and educational institutions.

Project Management Institute

PMI has a great resource page that features a collection of PM news and articles. Last month, they highlighted the changes that many universities are making in their MBA programs. Now, rather than just focusing on finance, analysis, and accounting topics, coursework is being expanded to include more “hands on” knowledge. PMs are recognized as having highly desirable skills including leadership and strategic thinking – characteristics that not every numbers guru with an MBA can boast. Locations like UC Davis are putting students out in the field to solve real life business problems as part of their required PM course. This gives students a chance to prove themselves before they even launch their full time careers.

Internationals Project Management Association

IPMA has announced the establishment of the International Centre for Complex Project Management contest. The research prize is awarded for innovation in emerging areas of complex PM. The ICCPM is accepting nominations of research papers through May 1st. The winner will receive AUD$10,000. This should be a yearly event, so start working on a paper for next year’s contest if you feel like you have the chops to compete for this prestigious award!

American Society for the Advancement of Project Management

This U.S. chapter of IPMA just released a report in February on “Understanding FAC-­P/PM and Competency”. Compiling the research took over a year (no word on whether that was the anticipated schedule for completion) and now it’s available free of charge. ASAPM came to a number of conclusions based on its findings. Their recommendations for federal projects include aligning methodology with each industry, improving measurement of results, and stressing actual competency rather than just training. We’ll definitely take a closer look at this report in a future blog post, so stay tuned.

Association for Project Management

The APM is a UK based organization for PMs. This association works with major industries by offering corporate accreditation for relevant processes. Notable participants in this program include Seimens, Shell, and Rolls Royce. Accreditation focuses on the current processes in place at a corporation, areas that may require further development, and the five dimensions of professionalism. A company must support its PMs in acquiring knowledge, experience, and ethics that demonstrate breadth, depth, achievement, commitment, and accountability. So far, the U.S. has focused on accrediting and certifying PMs rather than corporations. It will be interesting to see if this trend catches on over here.

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Tips For Generating Ideas With Your Project Management Team

There are three periods during a project when you need to be able to rely on your team for great ideas: the beginning, the middle, and the end. When you toss ideas around during the planning phase, it’s a great time for innovation. When you brainstorm in the middle of a project, those discussions are generally focused on problem solving. As you’re winding things down, it’s all about exploring what worked vs. what didn’t and thinking up ways to use lessons learned to avoid pitfalls and promote success for upcoming projects. This process just doesn’t work if you try to go it alone. Project management requires creative input from your team.

The problem is that a lot of people aren’t that good at coming up with ideas on the spur of the moment. Let’s say you put a team member on the spot with a question like “You’ve been awfully quiet, Dave, do you have a suggestion you’d like to share?” Chances are good that Dave either wasn’t paying attention at all or simply wasn’t talking because he didn’t have anything relevant to add. How can you unleash the imaginative resources of your team and encourage them to share their ideas?

Seed the Discussion

Before you have a project management meeting to brainstorm, let everyone know several days in advance (if possible) what the topics will be. This could be a particular goal along with realistic parameters such as cost or schedule that will be used to determine which concepts are workable. Consider including a couple of your own ideas in this message as a starting place. It may spark inspiration in one of your team members.

When you provide this kind of advance notice of a brainstorming session, make it clear that team members will be expected to bring at least one proposal of their own to the meeting. If you have team members who tend to be shy, pair people up in a buddy system to generate an idea as partners. The more ideas you start the meeting with, the better. They don’t have to be brilliant or completely fleshed out. The important thing is to get the ball rolling so people will feel comfortable participating.

Create a Focused Environment

No one is at their creative best when they have a pile of work on their desk to worry about. If there’s no “slow day” during the typical workweek at your office, you may have the best results by scheduling a meeting to generate ideas before or after work – or on a weekend. Only use this tactic rarely and make sure to treat everyone to a good meal to keep their blood sugar stable and their mood lifted. Consider getting everyone out of the office and holding an informal meeting at a different location. A reserved dining room in a restaurant might work (some people tend to loosen up a little after a glass of wine).

Don’t Make Decisions Right Away

This may seem counterintuitive from a project management standpoint, but the purpose of a brainstorming session is not to come to a decision. The point is to come up with lots of possibilities. The decision can be made after you’ve had a chance to more fully investigate the pros and cons of a particular plan. Communicate from the outset that there’s not going to be a big “showdown” with one person’s proposal winning and everyone else losing during the meeting. That can help project management team members be more open with their ideas and less defensive if someone points out a fatal flaw in their suggested course of action.

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Are You Considering SaaS Project Management Software?

With the proliferation of project management software options, finding an application with the features you need is not likely to be a problem. What can be tough is narrowing down your choices. One of the decisions you will have to make is whether to install on-premise software or use an SaaS program. Here are some features of SaaS to take into consideration.

Low Overall Cost Is Typical

This is the most frequently touted benefit of SaaS versus traditionally licensed software. The month to month fee is a lot easier for some businesses to swallow than the heavily front loaded price of on-premise software. The total cost of ownership over time can also be lower with SaaS project management software because the vendor is responsible for updates, upgrades, maintenance, security, and ongoing support. Generally, these services are provided at no additional cost as part of the monthly plan. Because the data is hosted on the vendor’s side, no additional hardware or server infrastructure is needed on the customer’s side.

Virtual Team Management May Be Simpler

Some projects involve team members and third party collaborators at sites in different states – or even different countries. Permitting everyone with a valid username and password to access your PM software anywhere, anytime can be a very attractive feature. This ensures that everyone is working with current information no matter when they log. Of course, you can set permissions so that SaaS users are only allowed to view, modify, or add data based on their level of responsibility within the project. You might even choose to give customers access to certain reporting functions so they can stay apprised of the progress of their project as needed.

IT Involvement is Still Required

Implementing a “rogue” SaaS application without IT’s knowledge is always a bad idea. Don’t let an SaaS vendor convince you that their project management software is so simple you don’t need help. One critical aspect of PM implementation is the ability to interface the application with backend systems such as Accounting. You need IT to check out the software to see if it will allow importing/exporting of data. Otherwise, you will be stuck rekeying information – greatly increasing the risk of errors. Ideally, your PM application will allow true integration with real time updating of data from your other programs.

Security is Always a Concern

There’s almost certain to be a large amount of proprietary information in your project management database. SaaS is becoming more secure all the time, but consumers still have concerns about how safe their data is when it’s hosted behind a vendor’s firewall instead of their own. This is another reason to have IT involved in the selection process for SaaS software. They can evaluate the security protocols (physical, procedural, and electronic) that these vendors have in place. Some may actually have even tighter security than your organization, so you might end up feeling completely at ease with third party hosting.

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