Tanner James Blog

Why aren’t we getting better at programme and project management?

John Howarth


“If we have been using MSP and PRINCE2 in the public service for a while now, why aren’t we getting better at programme and project management?”

That was the question put to me by an agency head recently.  It’s a great question, and one I thought worth exploring.

Are we getting better?

My gut-feeling, not evidence-based, is that we are, but only marginally.

Here’s one example.  It is twenty years since we ran our first PRINCE2 training courses in Canberra (yikes!).  When we came to talk about the business case, a noticeable number of participants would pipe up and say “but we’re public servants, so we don’t need business cases”.  These days everyone accepts the need for a business case; but what is the quality of the business cases being produced?  Often they are marginal, and if I was being uncharitable I’d say a few are simply an ambit claim for funding rather than a coherent rationale to invest in improvement.

If you prefer evidence, I don’t think you’ll have to look too hard for reports from the big firms and others saying that we are still not getting programme and project management right.  And Professor Peter Shergold’s 2015 report Learning from Failure spells out the issues very plainly for the APS.

What is the problem?

To my mind the answer lies in the question:  if we have been using MSP and PRINCE2 in the public service for a while now…”.  Has the APS been using MSP and PRINCE2 for a while now?  I would argue it hasn’t.

What the APS has been doing is sending people off to courses to “get qualified”, building home-grown frameworks based on the methods (often awash with templates), and engaging contractors who are “MSP/PRINCE2-qualified”.  Project and programme managers, whether APS or contract, are then expected to use MSP or PRINCE2 to manage the programme or project on which they are working.

Well, here’s the news, and I’m very sorry for those people who have so far being nodding in agreement and saying to themselves “yes, that’s how we do it”:  doing those things is not using MSP or PRINCE2.  Not by a country mile.

What are we not doing?

In my blog, The one simple thing most SES officers get wrong with programmes and projects I wrote that “The dominant way SES officers should look at programmes and projects is as organisations.  Temporary ones.”  This is the most critical point.  Programme and project management isn’t a solo endeavour.  If we keep placing focus on the individual project and programme managers, we will keep getting it wrong.  It is about creating temporary organisations.

Tailoring the methods is also critical.  Knowing how to do so requires a good deal of experience.  Tailoring doesn’t mean re-writing chunks of the manual in your own words, creating additional processes and activities, or creating turgid templates.  How many people realize that PRINCE2 doesn’t contain any templates?  You can tailor the methods to create your own departmental frameworks, but creating a framework isn’t the same as making sure it is effectively adopted by programmes or projects.  You can also tailor the methods directly to suit an individual initiative.

Application is the other key.  Skillful application of the principles and themes.  There is a world of difference between the results of a well-run product-based planning workshop with the right stakeholders in the room and someone sitting at their desk for days on end word-processing a “plan”.

So unless you have properly established role-based temporary organisations, tailoring based on experience, and skillful application, in my opinion you are not yet using MSP or PRINCE2.  Hence you might be part of the average department or agency that is still not really getting better at programme and project management.

Want to get the governance , tailoring and application right?

Tanner James is available for short, sharp engagements to help you optimise the way you manage your programmes and projects – big or small – based on the issues raised in this blog.

If you would like to know more, 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.



6 Things to Avoid When Implementing PRINCE2

Daniel Oyston

Last week we hosted a webinar and heard from the world’s foremost expert on PRINCE2. 

Known as the ‘The Yoda of PRINCE2’ (well that’s what we call him in the office), Colin Bentley wrote all the early versions of the PRINCE2 manual and was the lead reviewer and mentor to the 2009 revision to the PRINCE2 manual for the OGC. 

He was also the Chief Examiner for The APM Group until his retirement in 2008. 

Colin’s latest publication is titled PRINCE2 Rollout Approach and in this webinar he addressed the things that are essential to avoid when rolling out PRINCE2 to into an existing environment. 

You can view a recording of the webinar (video and audio only) as well as the slides below



Click the icon below to access an audio only file of the webinar.


How do I implement MSP (Managing Successful Programmes)?

John Howarth

How do I implement MSP? 

It’s the question that all executives face once they have made the decision to use the framework for programme management. 

Knowing where to start is the tricky part. Here are some pointers.

Why are we doing this?

If you don’t know the answer to this fundamental question there is a real danger you will end up with yet another ‘solution looking for a problem’.

Why do you want to use MSP? 

Are you, for example: 

  • trying to increase the focus on benefits;
  • trying to manage ambiguity and uncertainty that can’t be handled using project management techniques;
  • working in collaboration with other organisations; or
  • wanting to better co-ordinate separate projects that are all working toward the same goal?

Taking the time to write down half a dozen or so simple high-level objectives for the implementation of MSP will help clarify things in your own mind, share your thinking with others and inform your next steps.

What will we use MSP for?

There are a wide variety of situations in which MSP can help and the MSP manual provides useful guidance on types of programmes and how to assess their impact by looking at the nature of the change a programme is expected to deliver.

One of the first things I recommend you consider is whether you are looking to use MSP for a single programme (or perhaps a couple of programmes) or are you seeking to implement it across your organisation?

If it is the former - you can focus solely on application and tailoring to suit the individual programme. If it is the latter - you will need to consider broader aspects such as integration with your organisation’s project management approach and organisational governance arrangements.

Many Government agencies are looking at MSP, following their P3M3® assessment, as the foundation for their programme management approach. This is fine but you can’t implement MSP the same way you can implement PRINCE2 for example.

MSP needs to involve executives at a very senior level and it reaches deeper into the operational areas affected by the change. As such, knowledge and skills are required across a broad range of people. This makes stakeholder engagement about MSP itself a critical ingredient.

Look in the mirror to see where you are going

Sounds weird doesn’t it? Allow me to explain…

Most change programmes that choose to implement MSP are already underway – the government policy announcement has been made, the executive have stated their reform agenda etc. This means that things are already happening and you don’t have the luxury of starting with the proverbial clean sheet of paper.

In these circumstances what I recommend is that you work through the various elements of the framework – but in particular the governance themes and programme information – to see how your current management arrangements stack up against MSP.  This will then allow you to see what you have in place from an MSP perspective and will no doubt shed new light on the programme you are running and where it is currently taking you.

The MSP manual includes a simple health check that can be adapted for this purpose.

Look at the ridge not the summit

Change programmes are major undertakings these days. So, not surprising, the task of implementing MSP can seem quite daunting.  You can see the value in the method, but you can’t see how to modify the management arrangements in-flight to encompass all the different concepts and terminology contained in MSP.

The key here is not to try to do everything at once: take one step at a time and focus on the fundamentals. They being:

  • conduct a health-check to see how your current management arrangements stack up against MSP;
  • work through the process of identifying a programme with key stakeholders – this will naturally lead you to consider what should happen next; and
  • forget the templates – use conversations, discussions and workshops to conduct the health check and identify the programme.

So that is the answer to the question “How do I implement MSP?”.

What are you waiting for?!

Event Wrap - P3M3 Assessment & Capability Improvement Plan Progress

Daniel Oyston

Last week, we attended an event co-hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) and the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) which brought together Public and Private sector to talk about how P3M3 assessments and Capability Improvement Plans are progressing.

Ann Steward, Australian Government Chief Information Officer spoke about the continuing importance and focus on P3M3 including goals of the Agency Capability Initiative, the strengths and areas requiring focus and Capability Improvement Plans and their importance in the ICT Two Pass Process.

Our own Chairman, John Howarth, provided views from an Accredited Consulting Organisation, with extensive experience in the P3M3 arena, on what the Capability Improvement Planning process is and how Agency’s are and can manage their CIPS to achieve their target levels.

John  discussed why Agencies need such capability levels, what Agencies can select to manage using the capability they have and how they can implement their improved capability. There was lots of nodding in the room when John advised that the capability improvement planning process must be an exercise in stakeholder engagement.

A video of John’s speech as well as an audio only file are posted below.

Following Ann and John, the audience heard from three Departments who provided case studies on how they are progressing with their original CIP and their second P3M3 assessment including lessons learnt in the past two years.

Case studies were provided by:

  • Michael Carmody AO, CEO Australian Customs and Border Protection
  • Paul Madden, CIO Department of Health & Ageing; and
  • Mandy Newton, National Manager International Deployment Group Australian Federal Police.
You can download a summary of the key points from each speaker here 

Finally, the five speakers came together on a panel and fielded questions from the audience.

 Click the icon below to access an audio only file of John Howarth's address.

Translating a P3M3 Assessment into a Capability Improvement Plan

John Howarth
P3M3 (Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model) is a key area of focus for many organisations, especially government agencies. I have touched on P3M3 a few times in previous blogs, but have only once addressed the issue of capability improvement planning.

Many people are now turning their minds to the question of “How do you really translate a P3M3 assessment into a capability improvement plan?” 

Here are some of my thoughts on this next step.

Don’t make the mistake of simply trying to turn your P3M3 assessment inside-out

It is tempting to look at the results of a P3M3 assessment and say “OK, what we need to do is fix the weak areas”. Then the organisation sets about tackling each area one-by-one. The flaw in this logic is that the process perspectives within P3M3 are interrelated, and must be addressed holistically. This is evident from the frameworks that are commonly used as the cornerstones of portfolio, programme and project management capability – MoP, MSP, PMBOK, PRINCE2, P3O etc. They are not designed to be broken into individual stand-alone elements that are used separately from one-another.

So for example, an organisation cannot address benefits management in isolation if it also has significant weaknesses in stakeholder engagement – the two go hand-in-hand.

Be very clear about what you want to use the disciplines for – and why

There are three disciplines measured by P3M3®, which people often talk about in a single breath - Portfolio Management, Programme Management and Project Management.  However they are very different. While there are linkages between them, when it comes to what you do to improve capability they can – and should – be tackled individually.

Having understood that there are three disciplines in play, an organisation needs to make a conscious choice as to what each discipline will be used for. Sound obvious? It isn’t. For example, should your programmes stop at your organisational boundary, or should they work beyond that boundary? Is it sensible to run a single ICT-enabled change portfolio, or should you run multiple portfolios that reflect discrete service or policy areas? It could well be enlightening for your executive team to have a conversation around what kind of activity they think should be managed with each discipline – and why.

The why question is critical. 

You shouldn’t manage key changes with these disciplines because the project management fraternity think that is they way to go. You should do so because doing so will bring some advantage to the organisation – a way to manage uncertainty and complexity, increased certainty of delivery, reduced risk, better communication with suppliers etc. If your executive can’t articulate what they hope to gain through enhanced portfolio, programme and project management, there is no business case for your capability improvement plan. That is a serious problem!

Focus on people not processes

Hang on you cry, isn’t this maturity all about having processes? Yes, but it is about having processes that people really understand and apply because “That is the way we manages changes here”. There is no value creating management frameworks, manuals and templates which describe a theoretically ideal world but only sit there as shelf-ware while managers do something different.

Your capability improvement plan must be an exercise in stakeholder engagement that brings everyone on the journey. As champions of change, PMO staff and others need to inhabit the world that managers live in and help them learn new skills. The plan must be explicit in identifying which change initiatives will adopt new practices, how and when.

Practice what you preach

By which I mean don’t just write a capability improvement plan as a document, but rather run capability improvement as a change initiative – i.e. as a project or a programme in its own right.

This will both lead you to think about what you are trying to do in a structured way but also serve as an example to others. It helps bring clarity to all the things we espouse to others, such as:

• who is the sponsor for capability improvement;
• what is the business justification for it;
• what are we going to create or change; 
• how will we go about it;
• what resources are required, and 
• what are the risks etc.

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.