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New approaches to major public projects?

John Howarth

The Best Management Practice products from the UK Cabinet Office are now widely accepted across Federal and State government agencies – including P3M3®, MSP® and PRINCE2®. What is less widely known is what is being done to fundamentally change the way major government projects are run. 

Will we see these approaches adopted in Australia?

A new approach to leadership

Earlier this year the UK Government unveiled plans for a new Major Projects Leadership Academy which will be created and delivered in partnership with Oxford's Saïd Business School. The new academy will build the skills of senior project leaders across government to deliver complex projects – reducing the over-reliance on expensive external consultancy further and building expertise within the Civil Service.

In future no one will be able to lead a major government project without completing the Academy.

Quotes from the website make it clear that the focus is on building world class project leadership skills within government agencies and thus reducing the reliance on “expensive external consultants”.

Improving project performance for the taxpayer

The Academy will be managed by the Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority (MPA) which was launched in 2010 to oversee major projects and ensure they deliver for taxpayers.

The MPA represents a sea change in the oversight of central government’s Major Projects at both an individual and a portfolio level and aims to address the findings from the NAO report Assurance of High Risk Projects and from a Major Projects Review.

It is a collaboration between the Cabinet Office, HM Treasury (HMT) and Departments with the fundamental aim of significantly improving the delivery success rate of Major Projects across central government.

The MPA is supported by a clear and enforceable mandate and has the authority to:

  • develop the Government Major Projects Portfolio, in collaboration with departments, with regular reporting to Ministers;
  • require Integrated Assurance and Approval Plans for each Major Project or Programme including timetables for Treasury approvals and validation by the MPA and HMT;
  • make a Starting Gate Review (or equivalent) mandatory for all new Projects/Programmes;
  • escalate issues of concern to Ministers and Accounting Officers;
  • provide additional assurance and direct involvement where Projects are causing concern including the provision of commercial and operational support;
  • require publication of project information consistent with the Coalition’s Transparency agenda;
  • work with departments to build capability in Projects and Programme management; and
  • publish an annual report on Government Major Projects.

The Australian approach

Australia has had a number of agencies at both federal and state levels focussed on improving project performance – including the PM&C Cabinet Implementation Unit the AGIMO-led Agency Capability Initiative and DoFD reviews and assessments.

The question is, will we see these current initiatives develop into an Australian Government Major Projects Authority, with an associated Major Projects Leadership Academy? 

And if we do, will that be a good thing? 

What are your thoughts?

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