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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 john.howarth@tannerjames.com.au .  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.

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