When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) identified a need for intensive project management training, they turned to the experts at ESI International for support.
The BLM manages more than 265 million acres of land throughout the United States. Obviously, ensuring the safety and output of such an enormous area of land on a government budget, while answering to a list of customers that ranges from environmentalists to wealthy cattle ranchers, is quite a management undertaking.
Several years ago, the agency's leaders discovered a significant problem among their employees. Although "project management" was a term used frequently, little knowledge of basic project management theories and practices actually existed throughout the agency. With no standardized processes, consistency between projects suffered, and the mismanagement of risk, scheduling and cost control issues caused projects to be delivered late and over budget.
On top of their own internal findings, the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, issued a report on the BLM placing a moratorium on any major IT projects until the agency was able to show improvement in project management. The GAO's report stated, "The Bureau of Land Management lacked a stable environment for developing and maintaining software, over-committed staff to projects and abandoned procedures when executing projects."
The agency's project management difficulties were due in large part to a number of changes occurring toward the end of the 1990s. "Much more emphasis was being placed on information technology (IT) project management and construction project management," says Kurt Ballantyne, Project Management Specialist with the BLM. "More and more projects were requiring things like Land Use Plans and Environmental Impact Statements." In order to stay up to date and to succeed, the BLM was going to have to make some significant changes.
The Bureau Chooses ESI International
After recognizing its problems and receiving the moratorium from the GAO, the BLM went into action quickly to find a project management training vendor to meet its needs. Three separate vendors were evaluated on criteria that included course content, cost and requirements for certification. After an intensive review, the BLM chose industry leader ESI International, whose qualifications closely met the agency's criteria for comprehensive training.
ESI had many attractive features to offer the BLM. Their project management curriculum culminates in a Master's Certificate in Project Management or Information Technology Project Management from its academic partner, The George Washington University. Also, ESI's courses are offered publicly at training sites located in cities all across the United States. Another distinguishing feature of ESI is its ability to customize its curriculum for its clients and to bring that curriculum directly to the client. "This was a big selling point for us," says Ballantyne, "because we wanted training designed specifically for our needs. ESI could do this."
This wasn't the BLM's first experience with ESI. As far back as 1990, ESI was hired to teach 25 BLM employees to become project management trainers. The objective was for these individuals to train the rest of the company on how to bring project management processes into their projects. Unfortunately, the BLM didn't plan on the rate of turnover. "Although the training was a success, within a year, most of the project management trainers had left for other organizations," says Ballantyne. This time, the BLM would have to make a more intensive effort to ensure training success.
Directing the Training Program
From the start of the program, the BLM's objectives were clear. "We wanted to create a group of between 45 and 60 project managers with master's certificates from ESI and The George Washington University," says Ballantyne. The BLM called this their target group, which was made up of half IT employees and half business employees. This was done to create a balance between the two that would allow all projects to be completed consistently, regardless of whether they had an IT scope.
Next, the BLM and ESI worked together to develop the specific training program for BLM employees. They decided that to receive a master's certificate, employees must complete seven out of 10 ESI courses that most applied to their needs.
The BLM created separate groups of employees with about 15 members each to take the required courses together. The agency spaced the courses out over a four-month period to allow employees to move through the program quickly without keeping them away from their homes and offices for too long at one time.
Immediately, demand within the BLM for ESI courses was high. "Competition among the members of each group was pretty intense," says Ballantyne. Similar to a graduate program at the university level, BLM employees applied to the training program, stating why they felt they qualified. A panel of members from the BLM's management team reviewed the applications and made recommendations, and then the final groups were chosen by the BLM's Chief Information Officer.
Later on, based upon the BLM's successful relationship with ESI, the agency took advantage of ESI's ability to customize its curriculum. ESI created the course Project Management for Planners specifically for the BLM's Land Use Planners.
The Next Step for the BLM and ESI
Since beginning its project management training program with ESI, the BLM has accomplished its goal of acquiring a sizable group of certified project managers. "Although many have just recently been awarded their master's certificates, we've already noticed significant improvement at the planning stage of recent projects and we're very optimistic about applying ESI's training to upcoming assignments," says Ballantyne. This is significant since the BLM is currently managing more than 50 national-level projects valued between $500,000 and $15 million. The organization is working to match its recent master's certificate recipients with projects suited to their new skills. The agency also plans to put upper-level managers through ESI's project management training program as well, making solid, proven project management theories and practices a part of the BLM from top to bottom.