Two Birds! A Simple Approach to Improving Program/Project Management Practice and Governance



By Wayne Abba, David Pells and Miles Shepherd

USA and UK



Project management (PM) is implemented perfectly on few programs and projects, and in few organizations. The continued high rate of project problems and even outright project failures suggest improvement is needed in many organizations. The causes of most plan deviations are well known and well documented. Serious PM problems can also be attributed to lack of top management attention or knowledge (aka weak PM governance).

With the increased complexity of many modern projects, few managers and individuals can identify all internal weaknesses. This paper shows that independent assessments and/or perspectives are needed at various points in the life cycle of every large program or project to ensure that important issues are not overlooked or ignored. Just as independent cost estimates have long been recognized as invaluable for checking the validity of a project cost estimate, so are periodic independent reviews needed to check the overall health of a program or project.

This paper reflects the Authors’ recent experience as advisors to government agencies, national laboratories, global programs and major corporations. It outlines their successful model for conducting short independent reviews, and shows how such reviews can help organizations improve both basic Program and Project Management practice and governance.

The “Two Birds” in the title refers to the context of the paper: how to address practice and governance in a single review (killing two birds with one stone!); and the use of two expert advisors to conduct short assessments.

Project Management – Not as Easy as it Looks

Project management may not be rocket science, but it is often much more difficult than many people, including executives and other stakeholders, realize.

Failure Rates Stay the Same

Discussion of project success and failures is a natural aspect of project management. After all, don’t we implement professional project management in order to increase the probability of project success? Research (Cortex 2015) has revealed that project failure rates appear to have remained relatively unchanged for many years. Beginning around 1995, several well-publicized reports described failure rates on major IT projects, including the infamous Chaos report. Most reports indicate average project failure rates exceeding 50%.

According to McKinsey (2012) half of all large IT projects—defined as those with initial price tags exceeding $15 million—still massively blow their budgets. On average, they run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted. Software projects run the highest risk of cost and schedule overruns.


To read entire paper (click here)


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 2nd annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium in College Park, Maryland, USA in June 2015. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.


About the Authors

pmwj36-Jul2015-Abba-ABBAWayne F. Abba

Abba Consulting
Falls Church, VA, USA



Wayne F. Abba
is an executive advisor and principal of Abba Consulting, an independent management consulting firm based in Falls Church, Virginia. He is internationally-recognized as a spokesperson for program management using Earned Value Management (EVM). With over 30 years’ experience in program analysis and a worldwide reputation as a leader in acquisition improvement, he was integrally involved in the complete reengineering of Department of Defense (DoD) contract cost and schedule management policies and implementation, which was awarded the Packard Award for Excellence in Acquisition in 1998. He retired in 1999 as Senior Program Analyst in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology. His clients include the Social Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Agency for International Development, the US Navy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and several national laboratories. He has been an advisor to the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other US and foreign government agencies. He served several years as an officer of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Integrated Program Management Division. Wayne has a Masters degree in Public Administration from The American University and a B.S. degree from the University of the State of New York.

During his public service career, Wayne coordinated cooperative agreements among DoD and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom related to acquisition policies & standards. Since retiring from DoD in 1999, Wayne has also been vice president for a PM software and services company; a member of the NDIA Program Management Systems Committee with responsibility for international liaison; President of the College of Performance Management (CPM) and currently Executive VP of CPM; advisor to GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment and Scheduling guide teams; Senior Program Management Advisor for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative Program for the NNSA at DOE headquarters; program/project management advisor to several US national laboratories; Member of the Board of Directors of the Graduate School Japan (2012-present); and advisor to Japan’s Ministry of Defense on acquisition and program management issues. He was a winner of PMI’s Distinguished Contribution Award in 1999; was named an Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Excellence in Project Management, India in 2005; and has been a frequent keynote speaker on EVM, Program & Project Management since 1990. Wayne can be contacted at abbaco[email protected]


pmwj36-Jul2015-Abba-PELLSDavid L. Pells

PM World Services, Inc.
Addison, TX, USA


David L. Pells
is the President of PM World Services, Inc., a program/project management (P/PM) services firm based in Texas. He is also president of PM World, Inc., a project management information services and publishing firm. He has over 35 years of P/PM-related experience in a wide variety of industries, programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, transit, defense, security and high technology, and project sizes ranging from thousands to many billions of dollars. David is a Fellow and past member of the Board of Directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®). He was founder and Chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000) and the American Project Management Forum (1996-1998). Mr. Pells was awarded PMI’s Person-of-the-Year Award in 1998 and highest award, the PMI Fellow Award, in 1999. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (UK), Project Management Associates (India), and Russian Project Management Association. Mr. Pells has a BA in business administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University, USA. He lives in Addison, Texas, USA.

Career highlights include: Executive Advisor for multi-billion $, multi-national Global Threat Reduction Initiative for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), US Department of Energy (DOE); Senior advisor to Sandia National Lab, Los Alamos National Lab, Savannah River National Lab and Oak Ridge National Lab on nuclear security and other programs; Executive advisor on multi-billion $ transit programs in Dallas and Seattle; Member of mobilization team & first manager of project management systems for Superconducting Super Collider (green-field, 10-year, $10B+ project for US DOE) in Texas; Program manager, project management process improvements; Special advisor on several of DOE’s largest projects at Idaho National Laboratory (INL); Project controls engineer on large international construction projects; Program controls on two major projects for US Department of Defense; Project controls & project management support for design/construction of nuclear reactor, environmental restoration program, Space Nuclear Reactor Project, New Production Reactor Program, low-level radioactive waste storage program for DOE at INL; and Executive advisor for multi-billion $ nuclear power plant project in Finland. David is a widely-published author and current managing editor of the PM World Journal and managing director of the PM World Library. He has spoken at project management events and meetings worldwide.  David can be contacted at [email protected]


pmwj36-Jul2015-Abba-SHEPHERDMiles Shepherd

MS Projects Ltd.
Salisbury, England, UK


Miles Shepherd
is managing director for MS Projects Ltd, a consulting company supporting various UK Government agencies, nuclear industry organisations and other businesses. He is also Chairman of General Estates Co Ltd, a UK based property company; a Director of PM World Inc. in the United States; and an executive editorial advisor for the PM World Journal in the United Kingdom. Miles has over 35 years of project, programme and portfolio management experience in UK, Eastern Europe and Russia. His PM experience includes defence, major IT projects, nuclear decommissioning, nuclear security, rail and business projects for the UK Government and EU.   Past Chair, Vice President and Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM), Miles is also past president and chair of the International Project Management Association (IPMA). He is an honorary Fellow of IPMA and the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM). He was Chair of the ISO committee that developed ISO 21500, Guidelines for Project Management, and currently chairs the committee developing new International standards for project governance and Program/Portfolio Management. He was the UK delegate to ISO Technical Committees on Quality in PM, Governance of IT projects and several other specialist committees. He chairs the British Standards Institute (BSI) MS/2 Project Management Committee and IT strategy Group. He helped set up APM’s team to develop guidelines for project management oversight and governance.

Selected Career Highlights: Executive Advisor for multi-billion $, multi-national Global Threat Reduction Initiative for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), US Department of Energy (DOE); Lead advisor, Leningrad NPP management system redesign prior to hand over to State Regulatory Authority (GAN); 30 years in British Army, including Battery Commander, Head of Army Personnel Selection Centre, Technical Intelligence Officer, Information Policy Manager at UK Army HQ, and Head of Management Training at the UK’s Defence IT Management Training Centre, Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (1965-1994), Programme Manager for implementation on MoD’s New Management Strategy; Technical Lead, European Commission Study on energy security (2004 – 2005); Academic development of Project Management Academies for a major Oil and Gas exploration company (2007) and a nuclear engineering group (2008); Project Services Manager for AEA Technology Plc, responsible for implementation of a Project Management Office and PM control systems for nuclear power plant decommissioning projects in UK and Eastern Europe (1994-1998); Quality, Risk & Security Manager – designed & implemented ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHAS 18000 compliant systems, Quality Manager for AEA Technology Plc (1998-2004) with extensive first, second and third party audit responsibilities; Site Security Manager & Atomic Control Officer for Harwell, liaison with UK security agencies for civil nuclear security planning and for security compliance; Project Management consultant on decommissioning of Chernobyl Reactor no 4 in Ukraine (1998-2005); Project Director, EC Q115 Project –EC funded project to improve technical standards and reduce trade barriers in 9 East European countries; and Executive Advisor for a multi-billion Euro Finnish nuclear power plant project. Actively involved in graduate project management education and research, Miles has been Research Supervisor for the UK’s Open University (1997 – 2012), University of Leeds (2010 – 2012) University of Manchester (2010 – present) and University College London (2006 – present). He is a Director of PMI’s Global Accreditation Center.

Miles can be contacted at [email protected]