Project management in the UK public sector has made significant improvements. Here’s how we can make it even better, says Mark Langley of the Project Management Institute
Last year, the Conservative government won a clear mandate to continue redesign of the state. Improving public sector project management across the country is a critical part of this mission. There is too much at stake to ignore.
The Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) – a collection of the central government’s largest, most complex and therefore riskiest projects – was estimated in June 2015 to have a project lifetime cost of £511bn, according to a January 2016 report by the National Audit Office
Since the GMPP does not include all UK infrastructure costs, the total value of all projects, while not precisely quantifiable, is clearly much higher. Given the considerable taxpayer money at risk, action should be taken immediately.
According to PMI’s 2016 Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management, the recognised, documented waste factor in the UK due to poor project performance amounts to £138m per £1bn spent.
With this in mind, I was pleased to see the findings of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA, formerly Major Projects Authority), released last summer, showing improvements in project management across central government.
The IPA has delivered significant reforms, with more than half of the most ‘challenging’ projects implemented in 2014 having shown improvement, and is currently moving forward with a number of initiatives in the professional development field.
Despite these advancements, there continue to be concerns about public sector delivery, most recently expressed by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. If you add this to the scrutiny that surrounds large-scale public sector projects, many are set up to potentially experience challenges from the start.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) welcomed additional investment in dedicated project managers who are leading major projects that will have a profound effect on the UK as a whole. What follows are potential ways to ensure continued improvement in smooth and effective public sector project management:
The public sector needs to embrace collaboration and look to global private sector counterparts to share best practice for project delivery.
This is an area where governing bodies have often struggled. In 2012, the government highlighted that around 41 public sector projects were ‘red’ or ‘amber’ status (i.e. problematic or endangered). Although this has now been reduced, there is still the issue of how to identify problem projects sooner and to ensure alignment on their deliverables.
Develop clear specifications
The public sector must ensure any new projects have very clear specifications. Some of the most high-profile challenges in public sector procurement in recent years have been traced back to issues with the initial specifications.
Invest in project management talent
Although we are starting to see improvements, there is still a shortage of formally qualified project managers and delivery skills at the heart of government.
Given the global nature of many strategic projects, it is essential not only to increase the number of individuals certified in project management but also to ensure that these individuals are qualified to work on global projects. Project managers must share a common knowledge and communications base across borders and cultures in order drive the best possible outcomes.
Clearly define a formal project management career path
Thanks to the recognised success of the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA), Project Leadership Programme and other initiatives, project managers are able to have a more structured career path, which will ultimately result in better project delivery and quality.
The IPA continues to build on the work done. Last year, more than half of those enrolled in the MPLA since 2012 had successfully graduated, bringing improved project management to more organisations UK-wide.
If this continues, the UK can begin to look forward to greatly improved levels of success across the board.