Tanner James Blog

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?

Real Managers don’t use soft benefits

Daniel Oyston

written by David Bryant

“If it’s not cold hard cash I’m not interested”. They say real programme and project managers don’t use soft benefits.  But should they?

What is a soft benefit?

A popular misconception is that a soft benefit is a benefit you can’t measure. However, in the PRINCE2 and MSP worlds, a benefit must be measurable.

So does this mean that soft benefits don’t have a place in the PRINCE2 and MSP worlds?

Not at all.

What is a soft benefit in the PRINCE2 and MSP world?

According to John Ward, in Building Better Business Cases for IT investments, benefit measures can be categorised on a continuum from Financial (Hard benefits), to Quantifiable and Measurable and finally through to Observable (Soft Benefits).

With Financial Benefits, the financial value can obviously be calculated by applying a cost/price or other valid financial formula to a quantifiable benefit e.g. reduction in staff needed.

A Quantifiable Benefit is where there is sufficient evidence to forecast how much improvement/benefit should result from the change(s) e.g. reducing the average wait time by 10 per cent.

A Measurable Benefit occurs when the aspect of performance is measured but sometimes it is not possible, or very difficult, to accurately estimate how much performance will improve e.g. increased staff morale.

An example of an Observable (soft) Benefit might be specific individuals or groups using their experience or judgement to decide the extent the benefit will be realised e.g. asking line managers whether there has been an increase in staff motivation.

Soft benefits often relate to changes in individuals behaviour, which in many projects are critical to the achievement of business cases. The challenge is how to find valid ways of measuring such benefits – proxy measures often work, for example surveying the perceptions of individuals affected by a change before and after the change has been implemented.


It is hard to imagine a business case that won’t include a good mix of hard and soft benefits.

Just make sure you always have some form of measurement and that it is your best effort to make it realistic and valid.

This blog was written by David Bryant.

David Bryant | Consultant & Trainer

David specialises in maximising the Return on Investment by working with organisations to better align activities with the organisational objectives. David holds an MBA as well as PRINCE2, MSP and P3O qualifications.


Benefits Management Webinar – It doesn’t have to be complicated

Daniel Oyston

Last week we hosted a webinar: Benefits Management – It doesn’t have to be complicated. Thanks to everyone who logged in and participated.

For those that missed it, or those that want to see it again,  I recorded the webinar and have posted the video below. I’ve also uploaded an audio only file and posted it along with a copy of the slides. 

If you haven’t already, you can register your interest in attending the training we are intending to deliver in the APMG’s new guidance for Managing Benefits. The first public courses are being considered for delivery on 15 October. 

After registering your interest, we will provide you with access to enrolling in the course a full week prior to it being available to the wider market plus a 5% discount. Click here to register your interest.



Click on the icon below to download the slides 


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


Avoiding the Traps in a P3M3® Self-Assessment

Daniel Oyston

For the last two years P3M3® (Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model) has been mandated by the Federal and Queensland State Governments for assessing the organisational capability of agencies to effectively manage ICT-enabled investments. The results have been mixed, not just in terms of how mature agencies are, but also in terms of how the assessments have been conducted.  Federal Government agencies will undergo another round of P3M3 assessments before the end of September with results to be reported to the Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board. There are a number of traps that agencies should be aware of when considering a self-assessment.

Trap 1 - Misunderstanding what 'self-assessment' really means

There was considerable confusion when the term ‘self-assessment’ was first introduced, not least because there were two distinct meanings being used. In the Federal Government context, self-assessment originally meant that assessments were to be run by agencies themselves and that it would not involve a central agency arranging each P3M3 assessment or ‘judging’ individual agency capability. The P3M3 model itself, however, offered self-assessment questionnaires as one of a number of ways for an organisation to begin to explore the P3M3 model.

Most agencies have now recognised that a P3M3 assessment is something they must own As such, the question of self-assessment then becomes “To what degree can we do this ourselves and to what degree do we need external assistance?”

Trap 2 - Not ensuring the right level of experience is involved

The P3M3 model is relatively simple to understand in structure; however a deeper level of understanding is required to grasp which elements of the model are the cornerstones of maturity measurement. There is a significant level of detail in the model and not all of it carries equal weight when undertaking an assessment.

In order to assess portfolio, programme and project management maturity, it is also important that the assessors understand what the disciplines of portfolio management, programme management and project management look like when they are well defined and applied in practice. Agencies must consider whether internal assessors have the skills and experience to make such a judgement. Many agencies have the requisite experience in relation to project management, but it is less common for portfolio management and programme management.

Trap 3 - Misinterpretation

The assessments undertaken to date show that consistent interpretation is a critical ingredient in a valid assessment. It is why assessments undertaken using online surveys are of questionable value – those responding to the survey must place their own interpretation on the meaning of the model without the benefit of an experienced assessor to guide them.

A simple example of this issue is interpretation of the word ‘programme’ – if people interpret it to mean ‘Government program’ rather than ’change programme’ when undertaking a survey then the  P3M3 assessment results will be invalid.

Trap 4 - Using unskilled interviewers

The accepted method for undertaking a P3M3 assessment relies primarily on interviews with people in key management roles – programme managers, project sponsors, investment committee members etc.  It is important that the correct people are selected for interview, and that the assessors are skilled interviewers. The APMG Group provides third-party accreditation of Registered Consultants who are qualified to undertake P3M3 assessments.

P3M3 is here to stay – What are the next steps?

Agencies are implementing their capability improvement plans. They will complete their next P3M3 assessment, to compare their actual capability to their target capability, and report the results to Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board, by 30 September 2012.

From September 2012, agencies are required to complete regular P3M3 assessments of their portfolio, program and project management capability and report to Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board on progress against their capability improvement plans.

Agencies must obtain independent validation of their current capability before undertaking major ICT projects. The Government considers agencies’ capability as part of the ICT Two Pass Review process to strengthen the link between policy formulation and implementation.

P3M3 is here to stay. While I hate to use the blog as a ‘sales tool’, it is important to note that Tanner James can help agencies undertake a self-assessment in the optimum way – using APS resources to build internal skills and reduce cost while benefiting from external expertise arising from having conducted many assessments.  Conducting an assessment this way can produce a valid assessment for less than half the cost of having a full external assessment undertaken.

If you have undertaken a self-assessment before, or started to explore the self-assessment questionnaires, then I would welcome your questions, observations or lessons learned.