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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?

Have you read PM&C’s Guide to Implementation Planning?

John Howarth

In August last year, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Cabinet Implementation Unit, released Guide to Implementation Planning.

Quoting the guide, “The purpose of this guide is to help departments and agencies formulate robust implementation plans that clearly articulate how new policies, programs, and services will be delivered on time, on budget and to expectations.”

The guide notes that there is “ …a wide variance in capability, skills and expertise across the APS.” and continues with “Often these capabilities, critical to delivery success, are poorly understood or undervalued. The clear message here is that everyone involved in implementation planning has an opportunity to learn and seek out the people and knowledge that can help them with their approach.”

Obviously a department’s P3M3® assessment will highlight the variances in capability, skills and expertise while the resulting Capability Improvement Plan will help people “to learn and seek out the people and knowledge that can help them”.

There is a specific section dedicated to benefits in the guide which is useful considering Gershon finding that department’s are weak in realising benefits from ICT enabled projects. Talking with clients regularly, as I do, I have found over the past months that benefits are becoming part of the conversation more and more (not through me introducing it into the conversation but through clients introducing it).

Response to our series of one-day Benefits Realisation workshops has been overwhelming, to say the least, and as one recent delegate said to me “You have definitely found an itch”.

The guide notes that “many departments and agencies [are] using non-proprietary best practice methods as the foundations of their Portfolio, Program and Project Management capability.”

The guide cites that “The most widespread methods used in the APS are the UK Office of Government Commerce’s (OGC - Cabinet Office) suite of best practice management frameworks which include P3M3, Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), PRojects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) and Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O).”

“The best practice suite sets out what “good” looks like for those involved in program and project management, and draws upon the knowledge of experience and others which ensures quality and consistency throughout.”

The guide also provides useful guidance on elements of implementation including roles and responsibilities, benefits, deliverables, business case, risk management and stakeholder engagement.

You can download a copy of the guide here.

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