Published here August 2017


Musings Index

Going from Public to Private Project Management

I am a member of the Project Manager Community: Best Group for Project Management on LinkedIn, but I am a follower rather than a regular contributor. I find it interesting to see what interests, or concerns contributors have in their questions, and the range of understandings that respondents exhibit through their replies. But now and again I come across a contribution that, for one reason or another, really stands out.

Here is one such example. Keri Z. is a program manager. She writes:

"Hi everyone,

Has anyone transitioned from non-profit program management to the private sector? [If so,] What steps would you suggest for someone contemplating (and actively trying to make) a [switch], particularly to IT project management?

Thank you!"

Following numerous suggestions from readers, Merle G in particular writes:

"I did the opposite — about 30+ years in the private sector and then moving to the Federal government for the last 3 years. The main "in a nutshell" lesson I've learned is that in the private sector the direction is to meet goals, make things happen and produce results. It's about what tangible results you produce, how you do it is generally open ended. There is a lot of empowerment to do that if you take the right steps.

[However,] In the government sector the object is to follow rules and directions. Whether you actually produce anything significant is immaterial! The emphasis is on how you do it, not so much what the produced result actually is or how it performs. The conclusion I've come to is that the Government's role should be to "govern"; manage, regulate and oversee. By definition that is their purpose.

They should never be tasked with actually producing goods or services. Production of goods and services should be the work of the private sector where competition and profit drives continued improvement and efficiency."

Amen to that! That statement: "Whether you actually produce anything significant is immaterial" really stands out. Having switched from one to the other more than once in my career, the difference can certainly make you feel uncomfortable.

But to be fair, there are numerous services provided by governments that are essentially their responsibilities, such as peace and good order. When you have it, it is not particularly visible or appears significant. But you certainly know when you don't have it and what that means to trade and commerce.

Or, for example, where public safety transcends private profit and requires government intervention. Without that, it would not be possible to produce a vibrant and progressive market place for private sector activities. It is very difficult to find just the right balance — and keep it that way.

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