Kevin Coleman

Commentary

The need for skilled cyber project managers

The availability of properly skilled cybersecurity resources has been in the spotlight for some time. The demand is being driven by countless projects and programs requiring those special skills, most of which also require security clearances. Several entities have responded to this shortage with training programs and internships, as have many individuals who are actively seeking a career in one of the three general disciplines in the cyber domain: offense, defense and intelligence.

Although the shortage of resources for the offensive, defensive and intelligence-gathering careers in the cyber domain is beginning to be addressed, another highly specialized profession remains in fairly short supply: cleared and experienced program and project management for classified initiatives.

On the day I began writing this piece, there were 30 job postings for project and program managers and directors on just one of the classified jobs boards. The demand is certainly there but how about the resources? I conducted a search on a social networking site with millions of professional users. Only two individuals came up who had identified themselves as Defense Department project managers. I reviewed their professional biographies, and neither had any cyber background listed.

I saw an article a year ago that said defense acquisition research and development projects are 42 percent over budget on average, and some say the average weapons program comes in 22 months late. I wonder what the overrun stats will look like for projects in the cyber domain, with much less historical data to go on and much less experience. Looking further into this area, I cannot find any cyber project estimation guidance or tools that assist project/program managers in this critical function. For that matter, I cannot find any courses that teach classified project/program management. Looking back on my career and that of some of my colleagues, it is clear we were the product of on-the-job training and the school of hard knocks.

On typical projects, many team members take work home and often work on weekends. That can’t happen on a classified project. As a program manager, I received calls a number of times at home during nights and weekends about critical program issues. That can’t happen on a classified project.

The biggest challenge remains staffing. Finding qualified resources with the appropriate training and experience is very difficult and time-consuming.

The above issues are just a few of the project and program management challenges for classified initiatives. Add to those the compliance and regulatory requirements for government initiatives or the DOD regulations and standards for projects and programs and one can easily see the huge challenge. Now layer on top of all that the dynamics of the cyber domain (offense, defense and intelligence) and you can begin to appreciate the complexities that the industry and military face when executing projects.

Given the billions of dollars spent each year on cyber projects and programs that are classified, maybe we should invest in professional development programs that address the unique characteristics and challenges that project and program managers face when dealing with classified projects. Many organizations offer cleared staff the opportunity to pursue professional development activities to enhance their skills and knowledge. Perhaps a continuing education professional development program that addresses all the unique challenges of project and program management in a classified setting would be of great interest to those individuals.

I looked at the websites of several institutions offering project and program management courses and found no reference to applying those skills in a classified setting. I should note that I did find references to tools for managing classified projects and programs. Given the substantial amount of funds going to cyber warfare systems, defense and intelligence, maybe it is time for a program like this to be developed.

About the Author

Kevin Coleman is a senior fellow with the Technolytics Institute, former chief strategist at Netscape, and an adviser on cyber warfare and security. He is also the author of "Cyber Commander's Handbook." He can be reached by e-mail at: kgcoleman@technolytics.com.

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