Public Sector Focus

23.10.19

Professionalisation of project management

Source: PSE: Oct/Nov 19

Debbie Dore, chief executive of the Association for Project Management, discusses the impact that the establishment of the Infrastructure and Project Authority will have.

Government, like the rest of the economy and society, is increasingly delivering change via projects. Given the scale of project activity, it is vital that this is executed and delivered well. 

The establishment of the Infrastructure and Project Authority (IPA) was - and still is - central to providing strong oversight and focus to publicly funded projects. As the ministerial introduction to the IPA’s recent annual report stated: “Looking towards the next generation of projects, it is crucial that delivery considerations are at the heart of future spending decisions. We are committed to ensuring that Government learns and implements the lessons from projects that have gone before. Through a portfolio of projects that is well-managed and stretching but realistic, we can continue to deliver world-class public services for citizens and support the country to prosper.” 

One key contribution to building public confidence is the development of project management as a chartered profession. We believe that the development of a clearly defined profession, with a set of qualifications, training and ongoing learning as well as a code of ethics, can contribute to a culture of professionalism, improving standards and a sense of identity. The value of professionalism as a shared belief system as well as the application of applied learning, for example the collective use of lessons learned, can, over time, raise the standards and outcomes of projects for public benefit. 

As the chartered body for the project profession, the Association for Project Management (APM) champions greater professionalism in projects and a better understanding of the importance of the use of expert project professionals in project delivery. As the IPA report states: “A sustainable project delivery profession also relies on a strong pipeline of skilled and capable people entering the profession who have access to excellent career opportunities, in terms of location, challenge and development.” 

We are working in tandem with the IPA as it invests in further developing skills and professionalism, to attract new talent and generating a strong, diverse cohort of future project professionals. Nearly one fifth of all the chartered project professionals (ChPP) announced in its first year of operation come from within government, with APM supporting the IPA across a number of areas. 

While we believe that the project management profession is still in its infancy compared with more established professions, there is growing recognition outside its own ranks of the importance of good professional management. There is growing emphasis and appreciation across the profession of applying benefits management or benefits realisation management to increase the likelihood of projects and programmes achieving their goals. 

Considerable progress is being made to improve project delivery – and there are some shining examples, but still too many projects fail. A number of progressive reforms to managing major projects have been made, but it is still early in the process to properly assess the impact.  And all of this has to be set against the advent of an EU exit which has caused a massive strain on existing expertise and resources as key expertise has been diverted from current projects to support contingency planning. 

As Sir Amyas Morse, former head of the National Audit Office, said last year: "The Infrastructure and Projects Authority is clearly contributing much-needed project management and evaluation techniques to the mammoth programme of major projects run by government." 

The professionalisation of project management in the civil service is part of a wider trend towards the recognition of the importance of project management to develop as a profession rather than a discipline or activity. APM becoming a chartered body and announcing its first set of Chartered professionals is an example of this journey, but there is always more to do. 

A profession can drive up standards and help raise the status and therefore the influence of the profession to deliver better outcomes. As its leadership capacity grows, it can better challenge the ‘owners’ of projects at key stages - at initiation and progression and completion of major projects. 

Better training of individuals, developing a larger and better skilled cadre of project professionals as well as developing of a culture of professionalism will help to address traditional factors of project failure - including poor project initiation, sponsorship and leadership.

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E: opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

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