Programme Delivery across Government

A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) stated that a number of future Government projects could fail.

“A third of major Government projects due to deliver in the next five years are rated as in doubt or unachievable unless action is taken to improve delivery. Greater transparency on project performance is required” (Source: Delivering Major Projects in Government, 2016)

A number of positive steps have been taken by Departments to improve the oversight and delivery of major Government projects. Whilst on the correct path, there are still substantial gains to be made in order to consistently deliver major projects with confidence. In this blog we look at 4 areas where we feel these gains can be made.

Alignment to Strategy. All project & programme objectives should align with the organisations overarching business strategy and priorities (an exception would be mandatory change imposed by a governing body) with the expected benefits clearly defined in a business case. Where this is not the case, then the project should not be initiated and resources utilised elsewhere.

Similarly, as the project / programme approaches the end of a phase it should be assessed, in accordance with PRINCE2 methodology, against it original business case to determine if the assumptions are still valid, benefit forecasts are still realistic and there remains an alignment with strategy. All too often projects sail through these gates when conditions are not met and instead the decision to stop should have been made. Many factors will contribute to this, including the lack of an accountable individual, over optimism and the turnover of individuals within posts. This puts greater emphasis on the need for an external oversight body to audit programmes at key stages in their lifecycle.

Realistic Aims / Over Optimism. It is recognised by public sector senior managers that all too frequently projects are over optimistic at initiation, underestimating time, costs and delivery risks and overstating expected benefits. It undermines value for money and can lead to unviable projects. How can this be overcome?

• Greater emphasis can be placed on the discovery work to better understand the opportunities and thus build a more robust evidence base for investment.
• Consider the size of the challenge, its complexity and the interaction with other programmes, matched with an appropriate resource mix with the experience to be successful.
• Incorporate a robust governance structure to apply independent challenge and accountability.
• Project Management – Ensure individuals are trained to the appropriate standard with the necessary experience to manage work streams within defined tolerances.

Stakeholder Engagement. Successful projects are driven by the effective interaction of organisations and people who often have widely varying aspirations and requirements. Projects in the public sector tend to have a number of delivery partners, end users and other group with special interest. This presents a complex stakeholder environment and understanding the motivations and level of influence of these groups can be crucial to the successful delivery of a project. The ability to align the differing views and the amount of time this activity can take should not be under-estimated

Business Change. Change, Business Engagement & Readiness, is often the poor stepchild of transformation. Historically, less than 10% of programme or project budgets are allocated to this activity in comparison to a recommended 30% and in my view is a key contributor to programmes failing to deliver the benefits identified in the business case. How often do you see 2 processes or IT systems running in parallel, as staff have failed to adopt the change?

Change must be owned by the Business. You see lots of governance forums aimed at getting the technical solution correct but very few that focus on readiness implementation with a cross section of staff represented. Also key is engaging the business by doing things differently. Staff that consume the change are often best placed to help shape solution design. Engaging through interactive forums upfront will not only help shape the design, but staff will be bought into the change and champion it throughout the wider business, essential for benefit realisation. Finally, change has to be balanced. It must go beyond simply pushing out communication and providing training. Engagement and readiness activities must be addressed throughout the programme lifecycle and the impact on the staff continually assessed.