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.

Would you like some Benefits with that?

John Howarth


“Hello, welcome to the ICT area, may I take your order please?”

          “Hi there, I’d like a large digital transformation, with big data, plenty of agile, and I want it now”

“Would you like some Benefits with that?”

          “Errr, sure, why not – get someone to cook them up and put them in a separate wrapping”

Unfortunately this is a prevalent attitude in Australian government department’s and agencies today.  Does that statement sting?  Read on…

The Black Art of Benefits Management

Unfortunately some people like to make things complicated, and benefits haven’t escaped their clutches.  Sure, there is some considerable thinking behind benefits management.  There is also considerable thinking behind financial management – yet people have no problem with the concept of simple procurement or buying something on a credit card.  However when it comes to benefits, people love to complicate things.

Have you ever experienced any of the following:

  • A consultant who professes to be a benefits management specialist explaining why you don’t understand what benefits are?
  • A large firm or company spending months producing benefits documentation that would be sufficient to paper the walls of a good size home?
  • A corporate area that insists all benefits must be financial and anything can be translated into a hard dollar value?
  • A PMO who have created a template-driven benefits management framework that no-one else can understand?

It really doesn’t need to be this way.

Back to Benefits Basics

A benefit is a measurable improvement resulting from an outcome perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders.  In other words, benefits are why you do the project – expressed the way users want, using words they understand.  No clear benefits?  Then don’t embark upon, or continue, the project.

How do you ensure the project stays focussed on benefits?  Create a simple Benefits Management Approach:

  • Check users and business areas really understand and own benefits – that they haven’t just nodded politely in an endless series of externally facilitated workshops.
  • Identify what actions are required to ensure benefits are likely to be achieved.
  • Identify how the realization of each benefit will be measured (and capture the current baseline).
  • Agree the timing of benefits reviews – ideally during the project at stage boundaries.

These words are taken from the 2017 edition of the PRINCE2® Manual, which now includes creation of the Benefits Management Approach as part of refining the Business Case.  So if your current project Business Case is simply a vehicle used to secure funding commitment, it’s time to think again – be authentic about the ownership, definition and realisation of benefits.

Want to know more about a simple approach to benefits?

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.

Avoid elaborate bureaucracy: How to tailor PRINCE2

John Howarth


Last month I wrote about one critical feature of the PRINCE2 2017 update – tailoring, and specifically the fact that if you aren’t tailoring PRINCE2 you aren’t using PRINCE2.

My blog really seemed to resonate with people, and I received feedback that many of you working in Canberra departments and agencies feel they are entangled in an elaborate project management bureaucracy.

So this month I thought I’d try to help get you started, or perhaps re-started, with tailoring PRINCE2.  Because PRINCE2 is flexible, can help you structure things, and can unleash your creativity – and yes, this is true for those of you using agile delivery approaches.

A recap on tailoring

Tailoring means adapting a method or process to suit the situation in which it will be used.

PRINCE2 is tailored to suit the project environment, size, complexity, importance, team capability and risk.

Tailoring can be applied to processes, themes, roles, management products and terminology.

The PRINCE2 2017 manual is explicit:  if you are not tailoring, you are not using PRINCE2.  So as of right now, the majority of Canberra departments and agencies are actually no longer using PRINCE2 – food for thought.

Two types of tailoring

The PRINCE2 2017 update makes it clear that PRINCE2 can be tailored to create an organisation’s project management framework, and that framework should be tailored to suit each individual project.

The framework itself should provide guidance on what tailoring is or isn’t permissible by projects.  In my experience this is where the vast majority of departments and agencies go wrong – they don’t provide for project tailoring at all, let alone providing guidance for how to go about tailoring.  Thus projects find themselves being required to rigidly adhere to the project management framework, and unsurprisingly this lack of flexibility results in many feeling they are entangled in an elaborate bureaucracy.

Where to begin

It seems obvious where to begin - sit down and create or update the departmental project management framework, and include some guidance on tailoring, correct?  No.  While starting with the framework is a very common approach, in my view it is the wrong place to begin.  Doing so tends to create theoretical models, enshrined in templates, and so an elaborate bureaucracy is born.

Instead, the correct place to start is with individual projects.  Pick some pilots with different characteristics (complexity, importance, team capability, risk, agile projects, simple projects, projects in a programme, projects involving commercial suppliers etc), and give tailoring a go.

What do I mean “give it a go”?  It is actually very simple:  before you embark upon any of the activities that form part of the PRINCE2 processes, talk about how an activity or set of activities will be undertaken.  The key word here is talk.  Discuss how this is actually going to happen - when, where, how long will it take, with what degree of formality, who will be involved.  This will naturally lead to consideration of how the various elements of PRINCE2 need to be tailored to suit the project.

When you have tried tailoring on a few projects, and have some experience and lessons under your belt, then you can start to encapsulate common themes (pun intended) into your project management framework.

Tailoring takes skill and experience to make the correct judgements, but everyone must start somewhere.  The only place I really don’t think you should start is by building a framework, creating or completing more templates.  As I have said many times before, proper use of PRINCE2 is about thinking, engaging and communicating, it is not about paperwork!

Want to know more about tailoring PRINCE2 2017?

I will be running regular half day workshops about the PRINCE2 2017 update.  For more information or to book please click here to visit our website

If you would like to hear about the update and tailoring personally but are unable to attend one of the information sessions, 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.

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 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

Digital Transformation - War or Peace

John Howarth


Unless you have been hiding under a rock recently, you will be aware that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established on 1st July 2015.  Paul Shetler arrived as the new CEO shortly thereafter.  Just a couple of weeks into his new job and with the agency only officially 28 days old Paul gave a powerful speech at an Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) breakfast event.

Paul delivered a simple and compelling message about digital transformation in the APS:  people are online, the majority of people who try to use online government services face a problem, and therefore the APS must do better.  He went on to say that the opportunity to do so is immense, and that the way to approach things is to put users first, think big but start small, and deliver quickly.  He told the audience that Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

The digital transformation agenda and the messages delivered by Paul in his first speech seem straightforward and logical, and set-out an obvious direction that the APS must take.  Yet when you read commentary on the internet and talk to people in Canberra it is clear there are significant challenges lurking below the surface.


What’s the problem?

Actually, there are several problems.  Let’s consider the main ones.

People.  People do not act because something is straightforward and logical.  They do not do things because they have been told to do them.  People do things based on a complex mix of wants, needs, emotions and perceptions.  Much of the foundation for their decision-making comes from relationships.  Relationships that shape the data and information they notice and consider, the judgements they make, and the opinions they hold.

How we do things around here.  Canberra is a great City.  Of course, it isn’t really a City.  It’s a Country Town.  We all know each other.  We know how Government works, we know how the APS works, and we know how things really work.  Collectively speaking that is.  Individually this is a difficult place to grasp – I’ve lived here 25 years and I think I’m just about beginning to understand what I don’t understand.

Teams.  The modern public service is sufficiently complex that no one individual has the time or expertise to be across all the issues for a particular topic – be it a policy area, technology platform or process matter.  This means that work must be done in teams, and indeed in teams of teams.  Much depends on how teams are structured, and how they think and communicate – both internally and with other teams.

Framing.  What I mean by framing is how people look at the world.  Different people with different backgrounds and experiences will inevitably look at each situation with a different perspective from those around them.


I thought we were talking about digital transformation?

We are.  The point being that digital transformation is not about technology.  Technology is the exciting fun part where it’s easy to paint a picture of a digital future to which we should all rightly aspire.

The toughest challenges faced by the DTO, and all agencies involved in digital transformation, are not about technology.  They are about people, how we do things around here, teams and framing.

If the DTO is to be a successful catalyst for the digital transformation agenda it must build relationships – and many of them.  I don’t mean digital relationships - blogs, feeds etc- useful as they are, I mean real human relationships.  So while I applaud the “Engage” page on the DTO website, I am hoping to see all you DTO-ers drinking gallons of coffee in the far-flung reaches of Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden.

I am hoping there will be high-performing digital transformation teams that arise from coffee-shop conversations.  Teams within teams that are small and large at the same time.  Teams that span agency boundaries.  Teams made from people with different backgrounds and experiences that have established the trust required to underpin common vision, innovation and success.

I am hoping there will be a vigorous debate about how we can have the best of both worlds – the agile, fast-paced can-do digital world, and the more measured, structured, process-conscious and accountable world of the government bureaucracy.

War or peace?

I see a risk here, and the risk I see is that there could be war.  Old versus New, Digital versus Paper, Modern versus Ancient etc.  People could yell at each other about who is right and who is wrong.

I think that would be a shame, because I personally fully subscribe to the need for digital transformation in the APS, and believe that if we get it right Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

I am just one person, with my own wants, needs, emotions and perceptions, who frames things based on my own background and experiences.  But with that caveat, I can say with my hand on my heart that I believe PRINCE2 Agile offers the opportunity for peace.

Let the conversations begin - peacefully!


Let's Chat About PRINCE2 Agile

Ray Ahern

As a PRINCE2 trainer for many years, I have often been asked whether you can use Agile delivery in a PRINCE2 project management environment.

I typically give the ‘short answer’ – ‘Very much so; in fact they are very well suited to one another’,

More often than not this has inspired lots of challenging questions about the apparent contradictions between the ‘control’ provided by PRINCE2 and the ‘freedom of expression’ provided by Agile delivery.  I think it’s not exaggerating to say some people see PRINCE2 as ‘ancient thinking’ and Agile as ‘modern thinking’.

I am often led to suggest that I could expand on my explanation if the participant was prepared to buy a bottle of (quality) chardonnay and we can chat for a few hours in front of a nice toasty fire, for I certainly see no contradiction.

Enter Kostas!

Quite recently I googled the word ‘Axelos’ – the owners of a new approach called PRINCE2 Agile - and turned up the name “Kostas Axelos (1924 to 2010)”.

From my limited readings, Kostas was a modern Greek philosopher who tried to reconcile the “ancient thinking” of Heraclitus with the “modern thinking” of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and others in order to gain a new perspective on some of the problems of Marxism during his time. Kostas engaged with contemporary thinking and the emerging global world by seeking to discover the "unseen horizon encircling all things" (1964), further refining his method as a ‘continuous wandering through the splintered "wholeness" that surrounds contemporary human beings(1) .

Essentially he recognised that what appeared to be contradictions were not necessarily contradictions at all.  It drew me to wonder if Kostas liked chardonnay.  I have a feeling I’d like him, but I digress!

As the Chardonnay flows

For those now enjoying a Chardonnay, or a hot chocolate if you prefer, or sitting at work now thinking about warm fires, I thought I might outline why PRINCE2 and Agile have always been well suited.

The ideal management environment sees Executives who lay out the direction and then trust the people at the coal face to do what is required.  The Executives ensure that they are well informed without excessive interference with the work at hand.  Good executives see their role as facilitating effective delivery by setting direction and removing barriers.

In return those doing the work undertake to keep Executives informed and to raise any killer problems before they kill!  The workers are encouraged to use their skills and experience to deliver the best solution.

Such a world of trust encourages common vision, innovation and success.

PRINCE2 and Agile approaches share all of these underpinning aims.  There is no contradiction to be found between the approaches at this level.  If there are contradictions they are only to be found in the mechanics of implementation.  The relationship at the philosophical level is the thing that naturally binds the two approaches.

Now that relationship has been formalised with clear guidance on how to use Agile delivery approaches within a PRINCE2 environment and how to best establish use of PRINCE2 to support agile delivery. 

Axelos Launches PRINCE2 Agile™

Axelos (remember them?) has formalised that relationship by launching its latest best practice product, PRINCE2 Agile™.

PRINCE2 Agile is primarily targeted at organisations that have implemented PRINCE2 to at least some degree.  It is ideal for organisations looking to take advantage of Agile delivery practices or those who currently use Agile and wish to formalise the linkages to their PRINCE2 Project Management framework.

The good news is that, in Australia, most government departments and many successful businesses have already invested in PRINCE2 and many are experimenting with a range of Agile approaches so are well placed to take advantage of PRINCE2 Agile.

PRINCE2 Agile is not a substitute for PRINCE2, nor is it an ‘alternative’ to Agile.  PRINCE2 Agile is an adjunct to both which describes how to use Agile approaches within the PRINCE2 method.  The PRINCE2 Agile Guide positions PRINCE2 as providing core Governance and Project Management functions and Agile as providing the product delivery approach.  It then focuses on blending the two.

The Guide examines each of the seven themes of PRINCE2 and answers a raft of questions that arise when blending Agile and PRINCE2, such as how to ‘blend and weave’ the governance provided by a Project Board with the innovation provided by self-organising delivery teams of Agile.  It also explores what needs to be agreed in advance and what can be left to innovation during delivery.

PRINCE2 Agile shows very effectively how the philosophies of PRINCE2 and Agile are not contradictory at all when we come to understand the intentions behind each. 

The Guide also addresses the process model of PRINCE2 and highlights how a range of Agile approaches might be used to fulfil the expectations of the seven PRINCE2 processes.  After all, PRINCE2 has always been clear that the processes must be tailored to suit the environment.  PRINCE2 Agile simply outlines a range of approaches that can be used in an Agile environment to meet that need.

There is quite a lot of focus within the guide on the most common Agile techniques such as Kanban and Scrum.  It puts such techniques in context in both a theoretical and practical sense. 

The Guide pays substantial attention to Agile concepts such as Rich Communication and User Stories.  It also introduces the ‘Agilometer’ that helps determine risks associated with introducing Agile and approaches to deal with those risks.

PRINCE2 Agile fills a void that has been obvious to many practitioners for a long time.  Hopefully it will help to dispel many of the myths surrounding both PRINCE2 and Agile.  PRINCE2 Agile has been one of the most anticipated releases from the Axelos product suite (which includes PRINCE2, ITIL, P3M3 and Managing Successful Programmes).  I don’t think it will disappoint.

Tanner James will be running FREE Introduction Sessions on PRINCE2 Agile. more information can be viewed here.

Ray Ahern is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with Tanner James Management Consultants.  He was one of the first PRINCE2 Trainers accredited in Australia and has vast experience delivering and consulting to projects ranging in value from $10,000 to $25 billion.  He has worked with hundreds of projects, both ICT and non ICT, and has particular expertise in the Defence-Aerospace domain.  Ray is an avid wine collector and prefers a rich, buttery style of chardonnay but is averse to over-oaking of wine.

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