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How Project Management Makes the Presidential Transition Possible


On 20 January 2017, President Obama will hand over power of the United States federal government to Donald Trump. This is a handover of over 4 million federal employees and a budget of over $4 trillion. Max Stier, president of a non-profit group that established the Center for Presidential Transition, called it “the most complex, most difficult takeover on the planet today, and probably in history.” The Inauguration Day move-in only takes about six hours. What does this process involve, and how is it even possible?

What the Transition Involves

The Inauguration is designed to be seamless. While millions watch the parade and ceremonies, a lot is happening behind the scenes. During the six hour move-in, outgoing President Obama will have to remove the following from the White House:

  • 470 people in Obama’s office
  • 60 million pieces of paper
  • 200 Terabytes of data
  • 50,000 gifts from heads of state.

Incoming President Donald Trump began briefing this transition in April 2016. After the Inauguration, all of the work done in this relatively short period of time will include:

  • Appointing someone to head the transition
  • Fundraising $4 million for the transition programme and sourcing 600 volunteers to work on it
  • Checking that all computers have correct and secure software
  • Setting policy, priorities and budget for the new administration
  • Obtaining security clearance for the top 200 appointees
  • Recruiting 4,000 staff members
  • Launching the new White House website
  • Decorating Oval Office and residence
  • Rectifying any damage in the White House. For example, press secretary Ari Fleischer accused Bill Clinton of removing the W key from keyboards before George W. Bush’s move-in.

How Project Management Achieves It

PRINCE2 began as a UK government process to put best practice into project guidance. It therefore makes sense that the US government may be using PRINCE2 in the presidential transition.

In May 2016, Obama assigned a top aide to appoint two transitional councils. They designated roles to brief the President-elect, grant agency access to new staff members and ship Obama presidency paraphernalia to the Chicago presidential library and more. This demonstrates two core PRINCE2 principles: ‘Defined Roles and Responsibilities’ and ‘Manage by Stages’. It would be hard, if not impossible, to achieve all this on time without a defined project plan.

This year, Obama also signed the presidential Transitions Improvement Act. This took all the things that went right about the Bush/Obama transition and codified them. Essentially, best practice became mandatory. PRINCE2 and PMP both insist on tracking lessons learned so all projects can improve like this.

There could be many other best practice methodologies used. Management of Portfolios is designed to invest in change while running business as usual. P3O is another guidance published by the UK government. It merges many techniques from these other best practice guidances. All of them make processes like the presidential transition smoother, cheaper and more efficient. You can make your own projects just as efficient. See our full list of courses or contact us with any questions or queries.