Tanner James Blog

What will the Prime Minister’s vision mean for programme and project management in the APS?

John Howarth

What will the Prime Minister’s vision mean for programme and project management in the APS?

I was delighted to attend the Prime Ministers address to the APS in the Great Hall of Parliament House two weeks ago, and before I say anything else I must congratulate IPAA for arranging such a tremendous event.  It is impressive that over 13 secretaries and heads of agencies attended.

In his address the PM shared his vision for a 21st century Public Service.  There were over 800 people present, so there will be over 800 individual interpretations on what this means.

Here is my interpretation of what the PM’s vision will mean for programme and project management in the APS.

Key elements of the Prime Minister’s vision – transformation and leadership skills

The PM said that we live in a time of rapid transformation, and that plenty is changing for the APS.

He spoke at length about digital transformation, saying that it must be at the heart of government and therefore must be whole of government.  He said that “we must all commit to learn about the technology at our disposal.  That is non-negotiable.”  He spoke highly of the Digital Transformation Office and encouraged everyone to familiarise themselves with its work and to engage with the DTO.

The PM spoke about there being plenty of technology, plenty of imagination, but not enough technological imagination.  He invited everyone to open their minds and be bold.

Referring to the Prime Ministers Awards for Excellence in the Public Service, he observed that it takes a high standard of leadership planning and governance to bring ideas to fruition, but the results are outstanding.  The PM said he wants to see more of this within the APS.

The PM quoted directly from the State of the Service Report released last year by the Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd when referring to capability gaps in the use of technology, training and leadership due to the rapid and exhaustive nature of the changes we face.

The PM said “I want to encourage each of you to take stock of your leadership skills and see where you can improve, and I mean each and every member of the APS because I expect leadership to be shown at every level”.

I think it is also worth noting that in his opening remarks Dr Parkinson as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said:

We provide the government with an engine room to conceive, test and implement ideas”…”Yet, sadly, we are not as good as I think we can be or we need to be if we are to deliver what Australians expects of us.  This will be an ongoing priority for me as Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.”

A third-party view of Digital Government transformation

A recent Deloitte Access Economics report (available here) suggested that estimated new benefits of $20.5 billion can be achieved through digital government transformation.

The report acknowledged that there are many challenges facing digital transformation, and identified six main barriers to change in government:

  • Policy bottlenecks and bureaucratic inertia
  • Budget and capability constraints
  • Digital exclusion and divide
  • Lack of competition
  • Privacy and security
  • Transitioning government staff to new roles

The report included a recommendation that:

To encourage long-term digital transformation, business cases should allow agencies to offset agency savings against ICT investments (where they cannot already do so). In cases where this is not viable, government agencies can consider new forms of ICT project management and implementations that require lower specifications that are agile and innovative and lead to direct efficiency savings, which can be utilised to yield larger investments in the future.

A third-party view of government processes for implementing large programs and projects – (the Shergold Review)

Last month I wrote in my blog about the report “Learning from Failure”1 by Professor Peter Shergold AC, and I asked the question “How might the SES now learn from programme and project failure?”.  I will repeat just a few of the key points here.

The report made it clear that large government policy initiatives should be implemented as programmes and projects, and said:

  • As the public service fully commits itself to measuring results by outcomes, program management needs to be accorded far greater professional status.
  • Project and programme managers require minimum standards of competency and ongoing professional development.
  • The importance of formal qualifications should not be underestimated.  One of the best levers to mitigate risks associated with programme delivery is to have properly trained and certified practitioners.
  • Agencies need to be discerning consumers of the training products on the market, and access the best ones that can be tailored to APS processes

What the PM’s vision will mean for programme and project management in the APS

Putting all this together…

The Prime Minister is clearly committed to digital transformation.  There are huge benefits to citizens and huge benefits to government on offer.

The Prime Minister, the Australian Public Service Commissioner, the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet want the APS to improve their leadership skills in order to be able to implement policy well in a time of rapid transformation.

Professor Shergold has advised government that large government policy initiatives should be implemented as programmes and projects, and that this requires professional skills, formal qualifications and competence.

To me this means that programme management and project management disciplines should now be of great interest to all SES officers involved in policy implementation or digital transformation.  Each and every member of the APS must take stock of their leadership skills and see where they can improve – noting  those are the Prime Minister’s word, not mine.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about how you can improve programme and project management in the APS, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

What do you think?

Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

How might the SES now learn from programme and project failure?

John Howarth

I am pleased to have been a contributor to the report “Learning from Failure”1 by Professor Peter Shergold AC, which was published in early February 2016.  On page one of the report he says:

“Leadership begins with finding the courage to say, ‘I accept personal responsibility for contributing to the failure to which I was a party’.  That recognition can steer the resolve to make changes, try again, and do better.  Acknowledging errors publically is a form of self-improvement, not self-abnegation.  Failure, and how we respond to it, is where leadership is born.”

This blog is for SES officers who wish to make changes, try again, and do better with programmes2 and projects.

Note 1:  The full report can be downloaded here:  Content in italics has been sourced directly from this ASPC publication.  This material is licenced for reuse under a Creative Commons BY Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.

Note 2:  The report uses the spelling “program”.  As an AXELOS provider Tanner James uses the spelling “programme”.  We hope you share our opinion that how the word is spelt is unimportant.

Where do I begin?

You may have read the review, but how closely did you look at the front cover?  Apart from the title “Learning from Failure” it contains two descriptors of what lies within:

“Why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved” and

“An independent review of government processes for implementing large programs and projects”

There is a strong implication here:  large government policy initiatives should be implemented as programmes and projects.  This is massive.  It takes programmes and projects from being things that are only of interest to a chosen few, often with an ICT focus and often at more junior levels, to being constructs that are at the heart of Government operations.

Given this implication I recommend that you begin by contemplating what departmental policy initiatives should be managed using programme and project management disciplines, taking a much broader view than you might previously have done.

What are the key points for me?

In his review Professor Shergold identifies 10 key lessons to be learned:

  1. Policy is only as good as the manner in which it is implemented.
  2. Policy advice can only be frank and fearless if it is supported by written argument.
  3. Deliberations, oral and in writing, need to be protected.
  4. Deliberative documents need to be preserved, whether written on paper or delivered by digital means.
  5. It is up to ministers, not officials, to make policy decisions.
  6. The effective management of risk is just as important in the public sector as in the private—perhaps more so.
  7. As the public service fully commits itself to measuring results by outcomes, program management needs to be accorded far greater professional status.
  8. Good governance increasingly depends on collaboration across sectors.
  9. The APS needs to be further opened up.
  10. An adaptive government can respond rapidly to changing circumstances without taking unnecessary (and unforeseen) risks.

He made 28 proposals for improvement, in the form of conclusions, grouped under 6 main headings:

  1. Providing Robust Advice.
  2. Supporting Decision Making.
  3. Creating a Positive Risk Culture.
  4. Enhancing Program Management.
  5. Opening Up the APS
  6. Embracing Adaptive Government.

The review makes some critical points in relation to project and programme management:

  • The terms ‘project management’ and ‘programme management’ are often used interchangeably in the APS without full understanding of their meaning.
  • Public service departments with mature programme management capabilities value the experience and skill of their professionals.  They assist them to gain experience and acquire professional accreditation.
  • Having a single point of accountability is a cornerstone of project management methodologies.  Accountability for the success of a policy’s implementation must remain squarely with the SRO.
  • Project and programme managers require minimum standards of competency and ongoing professional development.
  • The importance of formal qualifications should not be underestimated.  One of the best levers to mitigate risks associated with programme delivery is to have properly trained and certified practitioners.
  • Agencies need to be discerning consumers of the training products on the market, and access the best ones that can be tailored to APS processes

What do I need to do next?

If you are an SES officer involved in policy implementation I recommend ensuring that you and your SES colleagues fully understand:

  1. The difference between programme management and project management, and what considerations apply when determining what departmental policy initiatives should be managed using these disciplines;
  2. The programme management and project management methods available to you, and how they need to be tailored for the APS context and nature of initiatives with which you are involved.
  3. Which of your staff require formal programme management and/or project management training, which require qualifications, how competence can be assessed and how these relate to Work Level Standards for the APS Level and Executive Level (EL) classifications.

Want to know more?

If you are an SES officer involved in policy implementation, and you would like to know more about how you can avoid programme and project failure, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.



How to create a Digital Transformation Plan

John Howarth

In my last blog “This is why Digital Transformation Coordinators can’t sleep…” I pointed out that if you are a Digital Transformation Coordinator (DTC) you have a big role to perform.  One of the first duties of a DTC is to develop a Digital Transformation Plan.  I’d like to offer a few tips on how you might go about creating that plan.

What is a Digital Transformation Plan?

The DTO has set out the requirements for a Digital Transformation Plan here.
In a nutshell the plan should explain the current service offerings and the user needs to be met, the vision for the agency, and how it will get there.  I would like to take each of these areas, have a look at what the DTO requirement is, and add a few suggestions of my own.

Before we begin {spoiler alert!}…

If you are about to sit down at your keyboard and create your Digital Transformation Plan, you are about to fail.  Because, to quote Eisenhower, “…plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.  This means talking not typing.  And talking with the right people – your stakeholders.  The problem of course is that you have lots of stakeholders.  Who hold lots of opinions.  How to reconcile all those different opinions and to get clear decisions and a clear direction?

My tip is to establish a role-based governance structure to manage Digital Transformation for your agency.  In fact, I’ll go a step further – my suggestion is that you establish a Digital Transformation Programme for your agency.  But not a big lumbering thing, one that is simply constructed and delivered using Agile development approaches and managed using PRINCE2 Agile™.

Where you are now

The DTO says that this element of the plan should address:
  • service users and their requirements; how the agency engages with its users around service delivery, and detail of current services;
  • strategic context and direction for the agency and its digital transformation, including current initiatives to digitise services;

I agree.  I think a high-level current state blueprint of processes, people, organisational structures, technology and information should cover the first item nicely.  I think a programme brief would cover the second item, and should include outline benefits, estimated costs, timescales, effort and risks for inflight initiatives.

The future

The DTO simply says that this is the vision for the digitally transformed agency.  I’m ok with that, but would like to modify it slightly, and add to it.

In my opinion the vision should be the vision for the world lived in by the users of the services, not limited to the agency itself.  Services should be considered and designed “outside-in”.  What will be the real lived-experience from a citizen perspective?

This means that when the vision is created, it needs to involve real people from the real world.  Agile is all about user-centred design, the trick is to ensure that from the very start the correct users are effectively represented, and this means properly engaging them in development of the vision.

What I would add to consideration of the future is that you don’t just need a vision, you need a future state blueprint.  Or rather blueprints.  Because the vision will be at way too high a level to be useful as a basis to plan or deliver anything.

So my tip is to create a high-level blueprint of processes, people, organisational structures, technology and information for the final future state, and create some interim blueprints for each chunk of new business/service capability you plan to deliver. 

How you will get there

The DTO says that this element of the plan should address:

  • identification of specific aspects of services that can be transformed quickly and enable significant improvements to the user experience
  • identification, prioritisation and planning the transformation of high volume transactional services to comply with the Digital Service Standard
  • an action plan that addresses the changes required at the organisational, cultural and capability levels.

I agree with all these points, however I think the last one requires careful consideration.  I believe this action plan needs to take the form of a properly defined transformational change programme.  As well as the vision and blueprints already mentioned I think it should therefore include such things as:

  • a clear role-based governance structure with a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO), DCT as programme manager, and business change managers from within and outside the agency;
  • a stakeholder engagement strategy and plan;
  • a benefits management strategy, benefits map, and benefits profiles – to ensure clarity about who is accountable for realisation of benefits from the digitised services;
  • underpinning plans – a programme plan and delivery plans that identify the products, timescales, costs, resource requirements and risks involved in transformation; these plans will most likely reflect agile development (PRINCE2 Agile is recommended for this reason);
  • appropriate governance strategies and control arrangements – put together in such a way that there is a seamless integration of the need for agile disciplines and behaviours with the need to stay in control and empower people without losing executive accountability or engagement.

MSP® (Managing Successful Programmes) is specifically designed for business transformation and programmes involving societal change, because it is designed to accommodate high levels of complexity, ambiguity and risk.  If you use MSP, always remember it is about talking not typing – “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.

Want to know more?

If you are an SES officer in the role of Digital Transformation Coordinator, and you would like to know more about how to effectively establish a Digital Transformation Programme, please give us a call on 1300-774 623 or drop me a line at


This is why Digital Transformation Coordinators can’t sleep…

John Howarth

I said in my recent blog “war or peace” that “unless you have been hiding under a rock recently, you will be aware that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established on 1st July 2015”.  Well, I’ll add to that - if you are a Digital Transformation Coordinator you might well feel that you have had a rock dropped on your head.

The plot so far…

For those of you who have been too busy to watch the DTO super-power marching on Canberra, here’s a very quick recap:

·      Paul Shetler has been appointed as head of the DTO, and he believes that Australia can become the best in the world at delivering government services – simpler, clearer, faster more humane ones.

·      Paul has branded himself as a non-bureaucratic champion of the people, leader of the digital age, who certainly doesn’t have any time for any stuff and nonsense which traditionalists have placed in his way.

·      The DTO has a very clean website, one my nineteen year old son might even like, that stands in contrast to the websites of most agencies and declares in big bold letters “working on things that matter”.

·      The dominate feature of the website is an upbeat blog that has a steady stream of positively-worded messages about how exciting the brave new world is, clearly designed to convey the impression that the DTO is a hive of   activity bursting to transform the world.

Lights, camera, action…

But the DTO isn’t all blog and no action.  It has defined a Digital Service Standard that sets 14 simple – but non-trivial – criteria which agencies are expected to meet.  If a service being worked on doesn’t meet the standard, the service doesn’t progress.  Ouch.

The standard comes with a range of ancillary items, such as Design guides, Common solutions, Case Studies and even a page on Transformation Planning.  I wouldn’t argue with anything this latter page says, however I think what is more significant is what it doesn’t say.  It tells agencies they must have a Digital Transformation Plan… and that is about it.  It indicates that the DTO will assist agencies with the transformation planning process, but is short on specifics about what that actually means.

Against this background, on the 14 October the DTO announced on its blog, with the requisite dose of positivity and excitement, it’s Work Programme.  Agencies are named, and simple compelling statements are made about the wonderful things that are just about to happen…

Did I mention this is a Spielberg Production?

Actually it isn’t, but the biggest name in town is involved – the Prime Minister himself has established the Digital Transformation Committee as a Cabinet Committee.  Yep, you read that correctly – it sits up there alongside powerhouses of government operations such as the National Security and the Expenditure Review Committee.

(Talking of expenditure, I’m tipping that the PM isn’t just backing this because he loves iPads…)

So if you thought the DTO was just another self-absorbed interest group tugging on peoples sleeves pleading with them to pay attention, think again – the new kids on the block have teeth, sharp ones.

Here’s the part you will be playing…

So this is all looking pretty serious, and someone needs to make it happen.  According to the DTO website, there will be an individual in each agency whose role in all this is as follows:

·         developing a Digital Transformation Plan;

·         influencing efforts in building digital capability;

·         implementing the Agenda within an agency;

·         delivering projects that underpin the Agenda;

·         acting as champions and leading their agency through cultural change, adopting a whole-of-government mentality;

·         collaborating with other DTCs across government;

·         ensuring that existing and new services are aligned with and meet the Digital Service Standard; and

·         making sure their agency uses government service delivery common platforms and joined-up services.

And who is that individual?

 – it is you, the Digital Transformation Coordinator.  Sweet dreams.



If you are an SES officer in the role of Digital Transformation Coordinator, and you are having trouble sleeping, please give us a call on 1300-774 623 or drop me a line at


Are your Programmes and Projects under the pump with no time for classroom learning?

John Howarth

Workplace learning is a way to learn PPM methods and improve the time available for management

In my previous blog “How to get Beyond Training & Templates” I introduced some of the considerations associated with learning programme and project management methods such as MSP and PRINCE2.  I pointed out that there are many (at least 10) levels of PRINCE2 qualification, and that there are different levels of learning needed, ranging from just having knowledge to professional practice that requires specialised skill and years of experience.

Having a qualification is one thing, but developing the knowledge and experience required to competently perform a role is another.  The challenge is further exacerbated because the modern learner has little or no capacity to attend classroom training that takes them out of the workplace for days at a time.

So what can you do when your programmes and projects are under the pump and the key players have no time for classroom learning?

Well, the answer lies in turning the question round:  move the learning from the classroom to the workplace, and remove the time issues for the key players.

Sounds simple right?  Actually it is simple, but there are a few principles you need to take into account.

Match the learning to suit the different types and levels of learning each role requires

The first thing to consider is what types of role need PPM learning.  This is an over-simplification, but a good start point is to consider four primary roles - the PMO, the project manager, sponsors/executives and others involved in programmes and projects.

PMO staff must have the highest level of competency among their peers.  As I said in my previous blog, I think a high level of learning [“Learning Level 4 – Analysis (using)”] should be the “minimum standard” for all PMO staff who support frameworks – and for the key one or two SES officers directly above them in the hierarchy.  Why?  Because their colleagues must see them as credible, and able to provide sound advice and services that are highly valued.  If they don’t meet this criteria, your PPM approaches are likely to remain as unused “intranet-ware”.  Pick the right PMO people to begin with and then invest in them (in my personal opinion this is why you should choose employees not contractors).

Project Managers also need a high level of competence.  Not just in PPM frameworks, but also in “soft” skills such as leadership and communication.  They need not only to know how to apply their knowledge of frameworks such as PRINCE2, but they need to know how to do so in the context of their project.  This requires considerable understanding of the agency – its structure, core business, key relationships and corporate services etc.  Even a highly skilled and experienced project manager has an enormous amount of learning to do for each project they manage.  For this reason I believe you must design your learning to ensure it is delivered in bite-sized pieces, in a way they can consume it, when they need it.

Sponsors/Executives in Australian Government Programmes and Projects are often SES officers.  Typically they are time poor, have multiple competing priorities and issues to deal with and often come from a policy background with little or no exposure to PPM frameworks.  In my experience PMOs and managers who “tell” SES officers they must do this or must do that have little success.  Executives will only engage – and rightly so – if they see why they need to do so.  Once they have engaged their learning must be delivered in a way that is very specific to their role in a programme or project, and in a time, place and manner that suits them.  That might mean very early or very late, in their office, and one-on-one or in small groups.  And be prepared to postpone – the Minister will always take precedence over your PPM learning session!

Others involved in programmes and projects are often overlooked.  What about project team members who work on the project, not necessarily the core team, but other stakeholders who will be involved such as regional users?  If they don’t understand the part they play or the management language you are using their contribution is likely to be greatly diminished, with a detrimental impact on the project.  You should also consider others outside the project environment but who will be exposed to the disciplines involved in some way – such as Executive Assistants who support sponsors, internal auditors, people in other central support roles such as finance, HR, communications or contracting.  People in these other roles should at least have a basic understanding of the key facts, terms and concepts which will impact them in their job.

Deliver the learning when people need it and are available

People who attend a mainstream course such as a PRINCE2 Foundation often do so without consideration of when they will need to use what they learn.  An individual may be attending because they have been given a project to run; but do they realise that while the knowledge they acquire on the first day will be put to immediate use, most of what they cover on the last day may be of no value for another 18 months?

Surely it is better to consider the likely lifecycle of the programme/project, and time the learning to match.  So for example, managers learn about initiation and the associated themes when they are about to undertake initiation, they learn about stage boundaries when they are about to encounter one, and they learn about project closure near the end of the project.

Availability is also a key consideration for PPM learning.  Agencies who arrange training and individual course participants tell us that sometimes they are unable to undertake training that runs over multiple days – there are a variety of reasons why this might be the case.  It might not be possible to have the whole team “offline” simultaneously, there might be other tasks which cannot wait more then 24 hours, or people might work part time and not be able to attend for consecutive days.  People who work part-time might also have difficulty attending a regular 9am-5pm session, because their working hours and personal commitments are arranged on working a shorter day, e.g 10am-3pm.  You must ensure that your PPM learning is delivered in a way that caters for such participant availability.

Make the learning relevant and practical

Once you have worked out who needs what type of learning, and timed it to match the programme/project lifecycle and participant availability, there is one more principle to observe: make the learning relevant and practical.

Delivering the learning by role is the essential ingredient here.  To make group learning relevant you must ensure that you have the right blend of learners in the room.  There are different ways to approach this, such as all the people from one Division, all the people from one project etc.  What you should try to avoid is having “odd one out”, for example running a session on project initiation where there are 9 highly experienced project managers running complex IT projects, and 1 new policy person who has never managed a project before.

To make the learning practical you must try to the maximum degree to allow participants to discuss and practice application of the learning to their own programmes/projects during and/or immediately after the learning.  For example when it comes to exercises, don’t use case studies based on a fictional scenario that relates to a private sector example, because participants will not identify with the example; instead use the actual programmes/projects on which participants are working as case studies.  This means the exercises undertaken are not simply “practice sessions”, rather they become part of the actual management activities that need to be performed anyway.  When done properly this learning time becomes management time that is spent in the optimal way.  In this way your organisation kills two birds with one stone:  equipping staff with the PPM learning they need, while at the same time undertaking high quality programme/project management activities such as planning that often don’t get the attention they deserve.


If you would like to know more about how to enhance your management maturity by implementing frameworks such as MSP and PRINCE2 in practical ways, please give us a call on 1300-774 623 or drop me a line at

How to get Beyond training and Templates

John Howarth


Here Are Three Typical Responses to The question "where are you with programme and project management?":

1.       All our project managers are (say) PRINCE2-qualified and we have a full set of templates on the intranet that they have to fill in.

2.       We’re given much theory and not enough about how to really do it.  The exams are just a memory test.  Our templates are painful.

3.       It doesn’t really matter which framework you choose as long as you have one.  We have Steering Committees, but there’s too much paperwork and I don’t have the time to spend on that stuff.  I’m more interested in getting on with things and making sure we deliver.


The responses reflect three different roles, each with their own perspective – the PMO, the project manager and an SES officer.  All three are doing their very best to get the job done.  All three face challenges in the domain of programme and/or project management, and many express some degree of frustration with the other two roles.

In this blog and future blogs I will work through some of the challenges and frustrations that give rise to these responses, and in doing so look at what can be done to address them...



This is one of the most commonly-used phrases I have heard over the years.  But what does it actually mean?  And does it matter?

There are two levels of qualification right?  Wrong.  I can think of at least ten:

1.       PRINCE2 Foundation (pre-2009).

2.       PRINCE2 Foundation (post 2009).

3.       PRINCE2 Practitioner (pre 2009).

4.       PRINCE2 Practitioner (post 2009).

5.       PRINCE2 Registered Practitioner.

6.       PRINCE2 Professional.

7.       Certificate IV in Project Management (attained based on PRINCE2).

8.       Diploma of Project Management (attained based on PRINCE2).

9.       PRINCE2 Trainer.

10.   PRINCE2 Consultant.

So the next time someone says to you “I’m PRINCE2-qualified”, it’s worth thinking about what that actually means, in the sense of whether the person holds the appropriate qualification for what they are expected to do.

Of course, having a qualification is one thing, but having the knowledge and experience required to competently perform a role is another.

The qualification system for AXELOS frameworks is based upon a variant of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  This classifies learning objectives into six ascending learning levels, each defining a higher degree of competencies and skills.  These are summarised – roughly – below:

Level 1 – Knowledge (information)


Know key facts, terms and concepts from the guidance - hence the “memory test” criticism.


Level 2 – Comprehension (understanding)


Understand - as opposed to simply being able to recall - key concepts from the guidance.


Level 3 – Application (using)


Be able to apply key concepts for a given scenario.  To me this is the level at which the learning starts to become useful for an agency – because you can now apply your knowledge.


Level 4 – Analysis (using)


Be able to identify, analyse and distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate use of the guidance for a given scenario.  Or to put it another way “be able to tailor effectively”.

At the risk of offending my audience, I think this should be the “minimum standard” for all PMO staff who support frameworks – and for the key one or two SES officers directly above them in the hierarchy.


Level 5 – Professional Practice (creating and justifying)


Be able to develop, evaluate and propose options for tailored approaches, designs or structures and justifying the value of those approaches.


For those who know the AXELOS exams, levels 1 and 2 are used for the Foundation exams and levels 2 to 4 are used for Practitioner exams.


So does it matter?  In my opinion, yes, it does.  Because to be blunt, passing the PRINCE2 Foundation exam does not in itself qualify you to manage a project being run using PRINCE2 (sorry).  Yet plenty of people – among them some well-paid contractors – describe themselves as “PRINCE2-qualified” when what they mean is they have (only) passed the PRINCE2 Foundation exam.  Is that to say they are not qualified to manage a project?  Not necessarily, but I’d look for some other evidence – a competency-based qualification (e.g. a Diploma) attained through assessment and/or a professional status attained the same way.

So must everyone have a qualification?


In my opinion, the answer is definitely not.  This answer might surprise you, given the amount of time I’ve spent unpacking the qualifications system.  I think levels 3-5 above are a useful reference point, but I’m not advocating that everyone involved with a programme or project should take an exam to achieve those levels of learning.  For example, it would be inappropriate for an SES officer appointed as a Project Board Executive to spend five days on a PRINCE2 Practitioner course.  They need an understanding of PRINCE2 that is specific to their role, and that is not necessarily something that can be achieved in a classroom – which highlights a topic I will address in a forthcoming blog: workplace learning.


In the meantime, if you have any questions about MSP, PRINCE2 or other AXELOS qualifications, please give us a call on 1300-774 623 or drop me a line at

Digital Transformation - War or Peace

John Howarth


Unless you have been hiding under a rock recently, you will be aware that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established on 1st July 2015.  Paul Shetler arrived as the new CEO shortly thereafter.  Just a couple of weeks into his new job and with the agency only officially 28 days old Paul gave a powerful speech at an Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) breakfast event.

Paul delivered a simple and compelling message about digital transformation in the APS:  people are online, the majority of people who try to use online government services face a problem, and therefore the APS must do better.  He went on to say that the opportunity to do so is immense, and that the way to approach things is to put users first, think big but start small, and deliver quickly.  He told the audience that Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

The digital transformation agenda and the messages delivered by Paul in his first speech seem straightforward and logical, and set-out an obvious direction that the APS must take.  Yet when you read commentary on the internet and talk to people in Canberra it is clear there are significant challenges lurking below the surface.


What’s the problem?

Actually, there are several problems.  Let’s consider the main ones.

People.  People do not act because something is straightforward and logical.  They do not do things because they have been told to do them.  People do things based on a complex mix of wants, needs, emotions and perceptions.  Much of the foundation for their decision-making comes from relationships.  Relationships that shape the data and information they notice and consider, the judgements they make, and the opinions they hold.

How we do things around here.  Canberra is a great City.  Of course, it isn’t really a City.  It’s a Country Town.  We all know each other.  We know how Government works, we know how the APS works, and we know how things really work.  Collectively speaking that is.  Individually this is a difficult place to grasp – I’ve lived here 25 years and I think I’m just about beginning to understand what I don’t understand.

Teams.  The modern public service is sufficiently complex that no one individual has the time or expertise to be across all the issues for a particular topic – be it a policy area, technology platform or process matter.  This means that work must be done in teams, and indeed in teams of teams.  Much depends on how teams are structured, and how they think and communicate – both internally and with other teams.

Framing.  What I mean by framing is how people look at the world.  Different people with different backgrounds and experiences will inevitably look at each situation with a different perspective from those around them.


I thought we were talking about digital transformation?

We are.  The point being that digital transformation is not about technology.  Technology is the exciting fun part where it’s easy to paint a picture of a digital future to which we should all rightly aspire.

The toughest challenges faced by the DTO, and all agencies involved in digital transformation, are not about technology.  They are about people, how we do things around here, teams and framing.

If the DTO is to be a successful catalyst for the digital transformation agenda it must build relationships – and many of them.  I don’t mean digital relationships - blogs, feeds etc- useful as they are, I mean real human relationships.  So while I applaud the “Engage” page on the DTO website, I am hoping to see all you DTO-ers drinking gallons of coffee in the far-flung reaches of Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden.

I am hoping there will be high-performing digital transformation teams that arise from coffee-shop conversations.  Teams within teams that are small and large at the same time.  Teams that span agency boundaries.  Teams made from people with different backgrounds and experiences that have established the trust required to underpin common vision, innovation and success.

I am hoping there will be a vigorous debate about how we can have the best of both worlds – the agile, fast-paced can-do digital world, and the more measured, structured, process-conscious and accountable world of the government bureaucracy.

War or peace?

I see a risk here, and the risk I see is that there could be war.  Old versus New, Digital versus Paper, Modern versus Ancient etc.  People could yell at each other about who is right and who is wrong.

I think that would be a shame, because I personally fully subscribe to the need for digital transformation in the APS, and believe that if we get it right Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

I am just one person, with my own wants, needs, emotions and perceptions, who frames things based on my own background and experiences.  But with that caveat, I can say with my hand on my heart that I believe PRINCE2 Agile offers the opportunity for peace.

Let the conversations begin - peacefully!


Let's Chat About PRINCE2 Agile

Ray Ahern

As a PRINCE2 trainer for many years, I have often been asked whether you can use Agile delivery in a PRINCE2 project management environment.

I typically give the ‘short answer’ – ‘Very much so; in fact they are very well suited to one another’,

More often than not this has inspired lots of challenging questions about the apparent contradictions between the ‘control’ provided by PRINCE2 and the ‘freedom of expression’ provided by Agile delivery.  I think it’s not exaggerating to say some people see PRINCE2 as ‘ancient thinking’ and Agile as ‘modern thinking’.

I am often led to suggest that I could expand on my explanation if the participant was prepared to buy a bottle of (quality) chardonnay and we can chat for a few hours in front of a nice toasty fire, for I certainly see no contradiction.

Enter Kostas!

Quite recently I googled the word ‘Axelos’ – the owners of a new approach called PRINCE2 Agile - and turned up the name “Kostas Axelos (1924 to 2010)”.

From my limited readings, Kostas was a modern Greek philosopher who tried to reconcile the “ancient thinking” of Heraclitus with the “modern thinking” of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and others in order to gain a new perspective on some of the problems of Marxism during his time. Kostas engaged with contemporary thinking and the emerging global world by seeking to discover the "unseen horizon encircling all things" (1964), further refining his method as a ‘continuous wandering through the splintered "wholeness" that surrounds contemporary human beings(1) .

Essentially he recognised that what appeared to be contradictions were not necessarily contradictions at all.  It drew me to wonder if Kostas liked chardonnay.  I have a feeling I’d like him, but I digress!

As the Chardonnay flows

For those now enjoying a Chardonnay, or a hot chocolate if you prefer, or sitting at work now thinking about warm fires, I thought I might outline why PRINCE2 and Agile have always been well suited.

The ideal management environment sees Executives who lay out the direction and then trust the people at the coal face to do what is required.  The Executives ensure that they are well informed without excessive interference with the work at hand.  Good executives see their role as facilitating effective delivery by setting direction and removing barriers.

In return those doing the work undertake to keep Executives informed and to raise any killer problems before they kill!  The workers are encouraged to use their skills and experience to deliver the best solution.

Such a world of trust encourages common vision, innovation and success.

PRINCE2 and Agile approaches share all of these underpinning aims.  There is no contradiction to be found between the approaches at this level.  If there are contradictions they are only to be found in the mechanics of implementation.  The relationship at the philosophical level is the thing that naturally binds the two approaches.

Now that relationship has been formalised with clear guidance on how to use Agile delivery approaches within a PRINCE2 environment and how to best establish use of PRINCE2 to support agile delivery. 

Axelos Launches PRINCE2 Agile™

Axelos (remember them?) has formalised that relationship by launching its latest best practice product, PRINCE2 Agile™.

PRINCE2 Agile is primarily targeted at organisations that have implemented PRINCE2 to at least some degree.  It is ideal for organisations looking to take advantage of Agile delivery practices or those who currently use Agile and wish to formalise the linkages to their PRINCE2 Project Management framework.

The good news is that, in Australia, most government departments and many successful businesses have already invested in PRINCE2 and many are experimenting with a range of Agile approaches so are well placed to take advantage of PRINCE2 Agile.

PRINCE2 Agile is not a substitute for PRINCE2, nor is it an ‘alternative’ to Agile.  PRINCE2 Agile is an adjunct to both which describes how to use Agile approaches within the PRINCE2 method.  The PRINCE2 Agile Guide positions PRINCE2 as providing core Governance and Project Management functions and Agile as providing the product delivery approach.  It then focuses on blending the two.

The Guide examines each of the seven themes of PRINCE2 and answers a raft of questions that arise when blending Agile and PRINCE2, such as how to ‘blend and weave’ the governance provided by a Project Board with the innovation provided by self-organising delivery teams of Agile.  It also explores what needs to be agreed in advance and what can be left to innovation during delivery.

PRINCE2 Agile shows very effectively how the philosophies of PRINCE2 and Agile are not contradictory at all when we come to understand the intentions behind each. 

The Guide also addresses the process model of PRINCE2 and highlights how a range of Agile approaches might be used to fulfil the expectations of the seven PRINCE2 processes.  After all, PRINCE2 has always been clear that the processes must be tailored to suit the environment.  PRINCE2 Agile simply outlines a range of approaches that can be used in an Agile environment to meet that need.

There is quite a lot of focus within the guide on the most common Agile techniques such as Kanban and Scrum.  It puts such techniques in context in both a theoretical and practical sense. 

The Guide pays substantial attention to Agile concepts such as Rich Communication and User Stories.  It also introduces the ‘Agilometer’ that helps determine risks associated with introducing Agile and approaches to deal with those risks.

PRINCE2 Agile fills a void that has been obvious to many practitioners for a long time.  Hopefully it will help to dispel many of the myths surrounding both PRINCE2 and Agile.  PRINCE2 Agile has been one of the most anticipated releases from the Axelos product suite (which includes PRINCE2, ITIL, P3M3 and Managing Successful Programmes).  I don’t think it will disappoint.

Tanner James will be running FREE Introduction Sessions on PRINCE2 Agile. more information can be viewed here.

Ray Ahern is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with Tanner James Management Consultants.  He was one of the first PRINCE2 Trainers accredited in Australia and has vast experience delivering and consulting to projects ranging in value from $10,000 to $25 billion.  He has worked with hundreds of projects, both ICT and non ICT, and has particular expertise in the Defence-Aerospace domain.  Ray is an avid wine collector and prefers a rich, buttery style of chardonnay but is averse to over-oaking of wine.

Why i Don't Care for Risk Theory

Matt Overton

“Risk, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again,” as Edwin Starr never sang.

But, a bit like insurance, risk is one of those things that you wish you’d paid attention to after the fact. And it is a vital component of project and programme management regardless of the mental model you bring to the subject.

From the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) side of the house (and influenced by the PMBOK Guide), risk is a mandated core unit in BSB51415 Diploma of Project Management in the form of BSBPMG517 Manage project risk. For BSB41515 Certificate IV in Project Management Practice, it’s a Group A elective unit (BSBPMG415 Apply project risk-management techniques).

From AXELOS’ perspective, it’s a (governance) theme in MSP and PRINCE2 and influences its respective principles. Risk – or rather its management – can be a significant reason in your justification for setting up a P3O and the risk role can provide your organization with functional expertise that might be shared at the project, programme and portfolio levels. It’s a process perspective in the P3M3 framework also.

Risk is also an ever-present component in ANAO Better Practice Guides, among them Planning and Approving Projects – an Executive Perspective: setting the foundation for results, Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, and Successful Implementation of Policy Initiatives, Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. (One of my axioms is that they might be better practices, but what argument could you possibly advance not to follow government-endorsed advice?) So, rather than what is it good for, maybe the question would be better articulated as: why should risk matter to you, the practitioner?

The answer is: because you need to do something about it. This component was writ large in the Report of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014). Chapter 14 detailed the lessons learned; along with addressing the capacity of Commonwealth agencies and staff to undertake projects and programmes (section 14.2), emphasis was paid to the importance of risk (section 14.7). In particular, it pointed to the significance of having a functioning risk management process and for staff to be able to use the process.

And what about risk’s sometimes unloved and neglected cousin, issue? While I’m sure (I hope!) we all know the theoretical difference between a risk and an issue, in practice I don’t think it matters. I have been asked countless times whether you should have a combined or separate approach to risks and issues. My stock answer is: I don’t mind. I’d like to believe that your delegate feels the same way. The requirement is to have something; the unit of specification (separate? combined?) can be managed and decided at the task level rather than the escalated level. That said, another of the conclusions from the HIP Report (section 14.7.4) was that risk is holistic. Rather than it being the domain – or for the protection – of senior officials and the Minister, or for reputational and political purposes, risk impacts policy, business-as-usual and projects, and all of those people who are involved in these areas.

Accordingly, accepting this advice on face value, you should forget about which flavour of project or programme management philosophy you prefer. You need to ignore the delineation of whether the item under discussion would be better located in the risk management strategy rather than in the risk management plan. Instead, your approach to risk should focus on something that is usable, flexible and extensible, and at an appropriate level of specificity for the project/programme team, management and corporate governance. Far better to have something that is used and flawed (and can be improved) rather than a product that is robust, complicated and sits on the shelf. My view is that while it is great to have a comprehensive risk strategy, I would trade off some of that ‘great’ to have a good – think functional – risk management process that everyone knows and, even better, has adopted. Then you can join it up to the rest of your project and programme management framework as your maturity increases.

So, I started off opining that, for me, risk didn’t matter. Of course, it does, but more in practice than it does in theory. As a practitioner, trainer and educator, I’m more far more interested in the practicality of application (and response!) than I am in an esoteric discussion of perspective and approach. Perhaps that’s the lesson to learn in preparation for when your delegate asks you how confident you are of managing, mitigating and recovering from the situation in which you find yourself. Good in theory, better in practice...

Click here to access Tanner James’ collection of templates, which includes examples of a Risk Management Strategy, Issue Resolution Strategy and Risk Register and Issues Log for MSP, and a Risk Management Strategy and Issue Report for PRINCE2.

Process maps, explaining how risk and issue management fits in to both MSP and PRINCE2, along with their supporting documents, may be found here.

Matt Overton is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with Tanner James Management Consultants. He has spent the last 20 years delivering risky projects and programmes in the UK, the USA and Australia. Matt is an AXELOS MSP Accredited Trainer and PRINCE2 Registered Practitioner. He is an accredited trainer and assessor in the Diploma of Project Management and Certificate IV in Project Management Practice under the Australian Qualifications Framework. He welcomes feedback to the issues (pardon the pun) he’s raised and invites you to suggest subjects for future consideration.

Stakeholder Engagement - "Have we got there yet"?

Barry Anderson


We are all very familiar with the childhood phrase “have we got there yet”?

Whilst most of us associate that question with our childhood it is a question; nagging our parents on a long drive, we should continue to ask for the rest of our life.  Whilst the child in an exasperated way is asking have we achieved our goal by undertaking the journey and arriving where we want to be, it is the same question that in later life will confront everybody who is involved with a portfolio of investment, the management of a change initiative or the oversight and conduct of a defined work package or project.  Have we made the investment of thought and effort to define the end game and planned methodically how we are going to actually get there??

Programme and project management and the APSC Structuring Work learning program all challenge us to focus upon the benefits we claim to be providing as part of change initiatives and to improve stakeholder engagement.  Whether that engagement is for a major programme or defining the outputs of a project or using our learning from the structuring work program to analyse bodies of work “Have we got there yet” requires us to focus on the outputs, outcomes and benefits that will actually satisfy the criteria for success.  What does success actually look like and how (as they perceive it) will the “lived experience” of stakeholders actually be different??

When we define performance measures with stakeholders we achieve a benefits led focus on doing the right things the right way.  Remember that stakeholder perceptions rule so focus upon the following points:

  • What do they (as well as you) believe should be measured, monitored, why and how?? 
  • Assess what is being measured and monitored now and how effectively?
  • Honestly evaluate how well we (them + you) are doing?
  • Evaluate priorities to focus upon where effort of all types is to be applied to optimise investment and the realisation of benefits.
  • Remember successful benefits management seeks to optimize rather than maximize benefits realization.  It is a balancing act of the bang achieved for the bucks expended.

A focus upon extensive stakeholder consultation will ensure fit-for-purpose solutions and the certainty that we can say “yes” when senior executives ask “have we got there yet”??

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