Tanner James Blog


Ray Ahern

Stepping from the Training Room to the Real World

Tanner James trains and consults in a number of proven, best-practice approaches to programme and project management.

In our training we present models that often represent an “ideal world” and sometimes, when training, I get comments along the lines that ‘implementing these approaches would never (fully) work in my department, because …’

There are many reasons why implementation can be difficult for a middle manager, and there are probably even more ways of breaking through those barriers.  I’ll deal with three that I think are the most common:

Lack of knowledge

It may surprise you but senior executives don’t always know everything!  Many senior executives in Canberra have heard of PRINCE2, Agile and MSP but often their knowledge is patchy and sometimes they can even have strange notions like assuming that these ideas are mutually exclusive.

Fortunately this is the easiest problem to start breaking down.  Tanner James provides expert, targeted Executive Briefings for Senior Executives who find themselves cast into senior project and programme roles.  These briefings are very powerful for starting executives on a knowledge journey and setting them up to start operating effectively in those, often unfamiliar, roles.

Tanner James includes a free Executive Briefing with all in-house courses, but they can be organised separately for any organisation.  As they are typically between 2 and 4 hours duration, they are an effective use of Senior Executive time and money.

Passive resistance

Often Senior Executives, because of their role, will believe they know how to fulfil programme and project roles effectively.  This can make them resistant to new ideas.  In the absence of an Executive Briefing, I typically suggest implementation by ‘stealth’ at first.  That is, the practices in MSP and PRINCE2 (for example) are valuable and applicable in any environment.  Sometimes the answer is to ‘manage upwards’ and provide best-practice examples to those executives.  I’ve often had executives who started out resistant and later become big supporters of best-practice once they’ve seen good examples.

We offer one-hour free support from your trainer for every course participant – perhaps one good use of that would be to seek advice on an example you’ve prepared for the boss.

Active resistance 

Sometimes Senior Executives will actively say things like “we’re not going to use PRINCE2 here”. 

Usually that’s because they’ve had a bad experience, and usually that is with large documents, poorly formed Project or Programme Boards or other amateurish implementation.  Hopefully you’ve come away from your course understanding that using best-practice shouldn’t result in any of these things.

My response to the problem is typically to do the same as I do for more passive resistance but I won’t  reveal the approach I’ve used until after the Executive says something like “hey that was a really good Project Plan”.  Often a good example will run so counter to their previous experiences, that the Executive will seek more information.

Doing a great example may require a more help than the one-hour freebie, but that might be a good place to start your thinking.

Tanner James provides an Implementation Checklist with every Foundation course and includes a free Implementation Workshop with every in-house course so that we can help you work out solutions to whatever problems you’re facing.  

If you’re on one of our courses (or even working with our consultants) and have these nagging doubts, please raise them and we can help you to design an effective solution.  We’re even happy to have a chat if you’re not one of our existing clients.

Deaf, Dumb and Digital

John Howarth


Digital transformation is great.  The world is being disrupted.  All the best companies are cool, they were only founded in the last few years, and don’t sell actual products.  Social media equals success.  The pace of change will only get faster.

These are the messages coming from the Prime Minister down, and we’re lapping them up.  The government is about to deliver simpler, faster and easier to use services left, right, and centre.  We all know it is coming, we all know how to do it, and we are falling over ourselves to be at the front of the change.  If you’re an SES officer or commercial provider involved in ICT, and you’re not continually spurting out the latest buzzwords and promising the world tomorrow, then you’re a nobody.

So this is all great and exciting right?  Well, I’ll let you into a secret:  it isn’t.

Digital Deafness

Listening seems to be turning into a lost skill.  I mean sitting with someone, face-to-face, paying attention to their words and their expressions.  Being curious.  Seeking to understand.  Not simply waiting for your turn to speak and tell them your view, or fiddling with your mobile phone throughout the conversation.

One-to-one transactions are becoming increasingly infrequent.  And when they occur, they are becoming shorter, truncated and interrupted.

What this means is that a great deal is getting lost in translation.  Does everyone in the APS really understand what The Hon Angus Taylor MP wants from digital transformation?  Do people working on projects really understand the “user stories”?  (Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that public service teams are attempting to get a grasp on what the users of government services want.  But my own personal experience - for example as a business owner, father of three, and son of two now-deceased parents – is that there is a long way to go.)

Project management suffers the same malaise.  People want to email each other, argue about meaningless labels (“waterfall” “agile”) or talk in jargon, rather than have conversations in plain English about what needs to be done, how, by who, and when, and what practically that will entail.

Digital Dumbness

Having such conversations requires… wait for it… two-way, face-to-face conversation.

Unfortunately, most of us have lost the ability to speak.  We now concentrate our communication energy into impressing the world on social media.  It seems to be the in-thing to post a daily update on Linked In along the lines of “Proud to… {insert bland activity here}”.  If one is unfortunate enough to get trapped in a face-to-face conversation with other humans, it seems best to stand on the side and throw the odd neutral but trendy phrase in.

Whatever happened to speaking our mind?  Tuning in to your emotions, your inner dialogue, and trying to express to others what you are really feeling and thinking in that moment?  People should be comfortable expressing disagreement in a group, but often they aren’t, especially if new trends are involved, or senior executives are in the room.  Who has the courage to sit down quietly with a senior executive and carefully explain to them why what they wish to do might not work?

What has all this got to do with programme and project management?

Everything.  Absolutely everything.  Listening and speaking clearly are at the heart of programme and project management.  You wont be able to transform anything if you are simply deaf, dumb and digital.

Want to get the real conversations happening?

Tanner James is available for short, sharp engagements to help you re-energise 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.

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.



The role of the blueprint in MSP

Matt Overton

A common question I’m asked during MSP training is around clarifying the role of the blueprint in the design of a change programme. MSP best practice advises that you shouldn’t confuse the future state that the programme will deliver with how you’re going to get there. It is also suggested that you should focus on where you want to be before you agree where you are (the current state).

The confusion is understandable considering that many change programmes are not as vision-led as we would like and instead are emergent, being derived from extent projects.In addition, we tend to conflate the roadmap of how we’re going to get to the end state with what that end state looks like.

This is particularly true of the plan-on-a-page deliverable, which provides an all-in-one solution.

My advice comprises three parts. Firstly, discuss the future state in the absence of a time horizon. You’re likely to have more free-form debate and ideation. Secondly, once agreement has been brokered, move onto the ‘how’ – the time and money – and ‘what’, including the incorporation of initiatives that are already in flight. Thirdly, focus on the current state since, from that, you’ll be able to judge the extent of the change and the speed by which it will need to be achieved.

I’m less concerned about these three parts being combined into one deliverable providing that their intent is understood from the outset. It’s more about the talking than the typing…

Matt Overton,
Tanner James Principal Consultant and Trainer

The one simple thing most SES officers get wrong with programmes and projects

John Howarth

The one simple thing most SES officers get wrong with programmes and projects

There is one simple thing most SES officers get wrong with programmes and projects, and it is this: they think about them the wrong way.

Common Misconceptions

Whenever I mention that I specialise in programme and project management to senior executives, it is always interesting to see what kind of responses I get.  They are many and varied, but body language and facial expressions can often signal private thoughts:

  • blank stares (“why would that be of any interest to me?”);
  • knowing smiles (“that’s nice, though you look too old to be an IT person”);
  • mild alarm (“are you a threat to my world?”);
  • involuntary eye-rolling (“I’m getting tired of you template-warriors”);
  • utter disdain (“haven’t you heard we have Agile now? - project management is so 1980s”)

(I admit there are some very positive ones but negative responses are surprisingly common.)

Now, I don’t think anyone gets to be an SES officer without displaying leadership qualities, intelligence and a broad range of capabilities.  So why are such high-calibre individuals responding negatively at the mere mention of programmes and projects?  It is because of what they think those things are.  Some examples:

  • projects are what we call the major tasks the CIO’s area is undertaking;
  • projects are the way we control our spending on capital works;
  • projects are pieces of work I get my team to undertake;
  • projects are the way Defence spends money (lots of it);
  • programmes are what the policy people think up for the service delivery people to deliver;
  • programmes are the way we monitor, evaluate and report on major government expenditure;
  • (programmes should be spelled programs because… blah blah blah… you get the idea!)

How should SES officers think about programmes and projects?

The answer is simple.  The dominant way SES officers should look at programmes and projects is as organisations.  Temporary ones.  A programme is an organisation, and a project is an organisation (a smaller one).

To do this requires a mental re-frame (indeed a couple of them).  Forget all about your permanent structures, they are valueless in the world of change.  Pretend they don’t exist.  Then look at the programme/project you are about to embark upon, and establish it as a new (and temporary) organisation the same way you would if you were setting up a brand new Group, Division or Branch.

You will need positions – roles – to direct, manage and undertake the work.  Principles by which the organisation runs.  Governance arrangements, processes and standards.  Ways to plan and delegate and set priorities.  Ways to check progress, deal with problems, change priorities.  Resources.  Funding.  The list goes on.

When an SES officer thinks about setting up a programme or project the way they would think about setting up a brand new Group, Division or Branch, they are far more likely to give it the degree of rigour, attention, time and effort it deserves.  Contrast that with the all too common solution:  “yeah, we’ll need to get a firm/someone in on contract to run that, make sure the PMO gives them the templates”.

Programmes and projects are the vehicles by which we introduce significant change, and if you don’t apply the right disciplines skilfully to manage them things are inevitably going to go wrong.  The best place to start is by having senior executives look at programmes and projects first and foremost as organisations in their own right.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about running programmes and projects as temporary organisations 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.

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.

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

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”??

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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