Tanner James Blog

The new APS P3M Community of Practice and Centre of Excellence

John Howarth

In my last couple of blogs I wrote about SES officers (one simple thing they get wrong with programmes and projects and what happens when they speak freely about programme management or project management).

While SES officers are critical to effective programme management or project management, the engine room is the community of APS practitioners who have a passion for making these disciplines cornerstones of high quality policy implementation.

I was therefore delighted to see the Departments of Finance and Prime Minister and Cabinet have launched a renewed P3M Community of Practice and Virtual P3M Centre of Excellence to support APS collaboration in building P3M capability.

P3M Community of Practice

The P3M Community of Practice (CoP) is an APS wide network of P3M practitioners who come together to share, learn and promote good portfolio, programme and project management practices.  The vision of the enhanced CoP is to build a collaborative knowledge sharing network of P3M practitioners to strengthen APS delivery capability and promote greater recognition by the APS.

Membership is voluntary and open to permanent or non-ongoing APS staff.

Virtual P3M Centre of Excellence

The concept of a virtual P3M CoE is to provide free exchange of APS focussed P3M advice; where professionals can connect and learn from each other, solutions can be developed to common challenges and P3M capability can be built across the APS.

What will the P3M CoP and CoE achieve?

In my opinion a great deal.  Much good work has already been done by the P3M CoP, and if you haven’t already been involved, I commend it to you.  It’s a great way to learn from the experience of other public servants facing similar challenges to the ones you face.

As trainers and consultants we spend a fair bit of time “connecting” people in different parts of the APS to one another.  That’s fine, and it’s a role we’re very happy to perform, but it’s even better to see the APS establishing mechanisms by which the collective wisdom of APS P3M practitioners can be harnessed for the good of all.

Note to SES officers – make sure you give your P3M specialists time to attend and contribute to time these initiatives (I couldn’t resist signing off on that note).

Want to know more?

There are more details on both these initiatives on this Department of Finance webpage.

To find out more about the CoP, you can send a message to

If you would like to know more about programme management or 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.

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.

Training project managers in project management is dangerous

John Howarth

Your organisation wants to get better at project management. So you send all your project managers on training courses to get project management qualifications. Unfortunately this will not deliver the results you are seeking. This blog explains why, and what you can do about it.

Training individuals does not achieve organisational implementation

Projects are about the delivery of change across organisational boundaries. Effective governance of projects requires decision making structures – Steering Committees, Projects Boards etc – that cut across those boundaries. Everyone who plays a role in these structures must be on the same page, not only about what the project is doing, but how the project is being managed. Indeed, if they do not understand how the project is being managed this is likely to limit their ability to effectively contribute in terms of what the project is doing.

It follows that the most effective way to train is to do so on a project-by-project basis, not a person by person basis, so that everyone in a project management role learns in the same context as their colleagues.

Each project that learns together must then be provided with appropriate support to ensure what they have learned can be translated from the learning environment – classroom or online – into the workplace.

Senior executives must be directly and personally involved in the learning

I have talked previously about the basics of executive involvement (blog 7 ways to get your executives on-side).  In the training context the message is simple – that senior executives who are involved in the governance of projects must be directly and personally involved in the learning.

That is not to say however that you should attempt to put your executives through the same training regime as the project managers. It is highly likely that they will have neither the time nor the inclination to spend several days on a course or hours wading through screen after screen of e-learning.

What most executives want to understand is how does the project management approach relate to the context in which they operate, what is their role in a project, and what do they need to do to ensure effective project management among the people who work for them.

Tailoring is essential

Project management qualifications demonstrate (in most cases) that an individual has attained a certain level of understanding of a particular approach.  What they do not do is equip that individual with an understanding of how the approach should be applied to their particular project.

Project management training is most effective when participants receive not only theoretical knowledge, but specific guidance on how things work in their organisation and the opportunity to apply the theory to their own projects.  This means tailoring must be tailored to suit both the organisation and the types of projects it is running.

For Government agencies that are required to undertake P3M3® assessments and improve capability, it is important to know that P3M3® level 3 maturity requires that training is focused on your organisation (blog P3M3 Training Considerations).

Embedding project management disciplines requires a structured approach to manage the change

Putting these things together at an organisational level is not trivial.  It requires good cooperation between the corporate PMO and HR department responsible for training / people development.

It requires careful consideration of timings – what is the right time to provide training to each project from the perspective of that project, and how does that add up into an overall picture of how the whole portfolio of projects can be supported. If the organisation is running projects in a programme context this must also be taken into consideration.

Putting it together

If you are currently just arranging project management training for individuals, I suggest you:

  • consider changing your training to a project-by-project basis,
  • involving senior executives in the learning; and
  • tailoring that training.

How to put all this together?  I think you already know the answer to this – run it as a project!

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.

Too busy fighting the war with bows and arrows to buy a rifle?

John Howarth

"Too busy fighting the war with bows and arrows to buy a rifle?" is one of my favourite sayings, and although it is an old one, I still think it has plenty of applicability in this day and age to the way we manage the programmes and projects in our portfolios of change.


“I’m flat out”

“I’m under the pump”

“We’ll need to reschedule”

If you are working in the world of programmes and projects you will be all too familiar with these phrases and what goes with them – long hours, the feeling of being overwhelmed, the feeling that you are not on top of things and that life is racing along and you do not have the time to do anything properly.  This is the modern working environment.  A world full of pressure and challenges and not enough time to deal with them.

Bows and Arrows

So what is our response to this environment?  My observation is that it is fairly chaotic, and under pressure, many of us revert to ‘bows and arrows’ to run our change initiatives.  Let me give you some examples.


The weapon of choice for many.  You can create them at all times of day and night, pack them full of what you think needs to happen and then fire them into the unsuspecting crowd.

Impromptu meetings

Actually meetings is a generous term.  Accidental discussions might be closer to the mark.  Someone raises a matter, and the manager says “right, lets have the conversation now” and pulls whichever team members happen to be in the vicinity into the room to “sort things out”.  Two hours later and you have a full whiteboard which will serve as the plan for the next couple of weeks.  Or at least until the next impromptu meeting.


Those who know me or read my blogs regularly will know that I have hit this one many times before, but I think it bears repetition.  Are you unable to make things happen in your organisation?  The easy answer is to sit in a corner and spend a couple of weeks filling in a template that paints the perfect picture of what you would like to see happen.

And why do we work this way?  “Because we don’t have enough time for all that project management stuff. It just creates an overhead and paperwork and I need to press on and get the job done”.  Then off the project warrior goes into the fray, firing off emails, holding impromptu meetings and filling in templates.


I am no weapons expert, but my understanding of a rifle is that there are a few key elements such as,  

  • Training – you need to know how to use it.
  • Loading – there is a brief but important sequence of things you need to do before the rifle is ready.
  • Aiming – making sure you are pointing it at the right thing.

I would like to suggest that the Cabinet Office frameworks Management of Portfolios (MoP), Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), PRINCE2 and Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O) can serve as well aimed rifles for the delivery of change – if you are trained, and spend time on the brief but important sequence of activities involved in definition/initiation.

Avoiding death-by-template

John Howarth

“We have to fill out reams of templates and I don’t see the value in that” – this is one of the most common criticisms levelled at project management frameworks in general, and PRINCE2® in particular. So I would like to offer some thoughts as to why this perception is so common and how to avoid ‘death-by-template’ on your project.

The PMO made me do it

You are a Project Manager.  You went to the PMO. They said you have to fill in the templates. So you did. Shame on both parties, say I…

As the Project Manager, your job is to pull together a shared understanding of what the project is going to do and why – in other words, a plan and a business case. You need to do this by getting the right people - stakeholders, decision-makers and so on – together in such a way that they have a meeting of minds. Once you have done that you will need to record everything, and that is what the templates are for. But if you try to achieve this primarily by filling in templates you are going about it the wrong way.

If you work in a PMO, your job is to help the Project Manager do their job. There might be a compliance element to that and you may also have a need for gathering some corporate information about what a project will do. Nevertheless you should be focussed on ensuring that the Project Manager has the skills and support necessary to get the project off on the right footing. Pointing them at the templates is a cop-out. You should be asking what they think they need in order to get the right people together and be asking how you can help facilitate that.

The same then applies to the management of progress, change, risks and issues once the project is underway – for the project manager it is about keeping minds aligned and for the PMO it is about helping them do that. Templates are simply a tool of the trade.

Will the person in charge please step forward

So who is to blame if a project has too much paperwork? The Project Manager? The PMO? As it happens, neither is to blame in my opinion. The person who is to blame is the person who has the role of Project Sponsor (or Project Board Executive if you are using a PRINCE2®. That person is ultimately accountable for the project, and therefore they should be the one to determine how much paperwork is appropriate and how corporate templates should be used/tailored to suit.

“But they don’t have the time/understanding to determine those things!” I hear you cry. Well, have you asked them? If your answer is yes and you still drew a blank, perhaps you could get a peer-level executive with some project management credentials to have a quiet word with them.

Our framework is mainly about templates

You may have a deeper problem on your hands. Take a deep breath, have a look again at the framework, and see what it says about the processes to be followed and who should be involved. Talk to the PMO to see what advice they can give you about processes, who should be involved, key concepts etc – find out as much as you can about anything other than templates.

If you find that your framework really is template-centric I believe you have a systemic corporate issue that requires the attention of top-management in your organisation.

For the record, PRINCE2® is a process-based approach, not a template-based approach. The most recent refresh of the method – the 2009 edition – makes this abundantly clear and I invite the doubters to have a very close look at it before levelling the accusation that the method is about templates.