How change management is changing

Source: PSE - Oct/Nov 2015

PSE talks to Peter Glynne, head of change and programme management at Westminster City Council, about the evolving roles and responsibilities of project managers in the public sector – and how they are perceived.

The next five years will be a period of massive disruption and change for the whole public sector, but especially for those tasked with managing transformation programmes within their organisations. Unprecedented budget cuts, the devolution agenda, cross-sector working and digital developments are going to make it a time of upheaval and challenge.

Peter Glynne has worked on change programmes with many different organisations, and at accountancy giant Deloitte. He is now head of change and programme management at Westminster City Council, and has held a number of roles with the Association for Project Management (APM). 

He told PSE: “Public sector organisations have achieved a lot of change in recent years. However, I think the amount of change ahead in the next five or six years is of a different level and will be much more intense.”

Working cultures and maturity levels

It will require “a much more joined-up approach,” Glynne said, which brings the additional challenge of different and potentially conflicting working cultures and behaviours across organisations. The differing levels of maturity across different parts of the public sector in terms of project management is also an issue, he said. “For example, how change is delivered in the NHS is very different from in the Civil Service, which is different from local government.”

Fortunately, the skills of project and change managers have evolved, as have their credibility and status within the sector. Glynne explained: “In the past we had a reliance on educating people around technical knowledge, certification and compliance with process. In recent years, this has moved on considerably and the focus is now on the all-round skillset, leadership and important behavioural competencies. This is where it needs to be.”

Senior responsible owners (the SRO, sometimes known as the sponsor) are also getting more support. Traditionally, they would get the nod to lead a major project from their CEO or permanent secretary, despite lacking the time and the fact they “weren’t always in the best position to have cross-functional leadership across the organisation,” Glynne said. But that’s changing, with more support, training and leadership buy-in, helped by the Major Projects Leadership Academy.

Within organisations, the most important factor is executive commitment, Glynne said. “We’re very fortunate at Westminster City Council that we have a very strong executive commitment to help deliver change. That is the single biggest factor to drive the success of projects and programmes across the organisation.”

Career paths

Glynne said more public sector organisations have a mature in-house project management capability these days, meaning less reliance on consultants or hired experts. He said: “When you look at the landscape until recently, there’s been a significant number of interims and contractors, who are brought in for a specific role, for a specific period, supplemented with the permanent team that sit within the organisation. But I think there is an increasing maturity of in-house capability across most public sector organisations, and that’s beneficial.

“In terms of how career paths are developing, that’s a more interesting question. There is a clear route into a ‘head of programme management’ role, or ‘head of transformation’, or ‘head of change’. If you want to go up to the next level – director, executive director – then having a specialist background in project, programme and change management is only part of the picture. There needs to be a broader skillset outside of that, which would enable people to prosper at a more senior level. Because the word ‘change’ is a very broad term, you can have many different types of professionals who sit at the boardroom table who own the corporate change agenda. We haven’t yet got to the point where we would have a ‘chief project officer’ who would sit at the boardroom table.”

Work with the APM

Glynne’s team of about 25 project and programme managers lead on the council’s change portfolio. Westminster is a pioneer in the shared services agenda, having worked with its neighbours to share service delivery and back office functions since 2011 under the ‘tri-borough’ initiative. That agenda is “growing across local government, and we’re seeing a lot more happening,” Glynne told us. “The whole devolution agenda will accelerate it even further.”

The city council’s focus on project management is also highlighted by the fact that it is the first – and so far only – local authority to win APM corporate accreditation.

He said: “We see the APM as a very important part of our professionalism here. We’ve adopted the APM set of qualifications as our de facto standard for the organisation, we highly encourage our project and programme managers across the organisation to become APM members, we highlight its events, we have masterclasses, and many of our guest speakers are leading APM members. They are very well supported, those events. Membership of the APM has been beneficial for Westminster City Council.”


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