APM More for Less: Reflections on the ProgM Conference

On Tuesday 26th November 2013 in the heart of Birmingham ProgM SIG staged  “Delivering more 4 less: using programme management to achieve transformational change in times of austerity". The SIG had promised an event that weaved together the four ‘C’s’ theme namely collaboration, change, community and competence, drawing on a wealth of experience from across the public sector.

According to feedback already received, from over 80 delegates, the audience were not disappointed. Survey results have rated the ten speakers - all experts in their field, very highly indeed. This comes as no surprise to the organising committee who had carefully hand-picked the line-up and crafted the conference programme; it was clear to all that the audience remained engaged throughout the entire day.

Merv Wyeth and Jim Dale
Merv Wyeth and Jim Dale


Merv Wyeth, ProgM Chair introduced the conference by describing how the event had been designed with the intention of providing delegates with a high return on their personal investment – i.e attendance and participation - #eventroi.

The big idea was that the day should be an enjoyable shared experience that offered an exceptional opportunity for learning, motivation and networking in the field of programme management.

 


 


Time and space was built into the programme to enable the audience to interrogate (police were present), and otherwise question, speakers. They were also given the opportunity to vote in polls on issues and questions that speakers posed, which offered additional insights into audience perception and sentiment which otherwise would not have been available.

It was clear that some exciting new relationships and alliances were being forged on the day and the fact that the right people were in the room means that the event can be expected to make a significant contribution to ProgM’s mission, namely ‘To provide a forum for effective learning and development, that promotes the science, discipline, tools and techniques of programme management’.

JimDale
Jim Dale


The conference offered the chance for Jim Dale to provide a ‘sitrep’ on his ProgM-backed Collaborative Change research namely “Using research to improve the delivery and effectiveness of change programmes and projects” previewed in last month’s show-case webinar. During his presentation Jim provided an update of the story so far, thanked those who had already participated either in an interview or by completing the survey. ProgM would like to extend the opportunity to all those currently, or previously, involved in programme management and related collaborative activity to participate in this important Collaborative Change survey.

 

 

On the day, Steve Wake, newly appointed Chair of APM Board, was available to round-up the proceedings and provide a special vote of thanks to his Board colleagues, the organising committee and our generous sponsors, BMT Hi-Q Sigma. He reminded those present of the ongoing Strategy 2020 initiative of “Listening, learning and leading” that complements events of this type. Prior to enjoying a post-event reception, Steve recognised the contribution of Anna and Tricia, for their behind-the-scenes administrative support, through the presentation of flowers.

As per the modus operandi of ProgM SIG we asked one of the supporting committee members, Neil White, to write a short reflective piece, which is recorded below. Our intention over the next few days, and weeks, is to produce further articles and share collateral and proceedings from #apmmore4less.

Article by Neil White, ProgM SIG Committee Member

 Neil White


From the outset I knew this event was going to be a success. We are living in demanding times and must strive to do even better whilst faced with the reality of limited or dwindling resources. It was clear to me from the considerate and informative manner in which the topic was being managed that it would resonate well with conference attendees. This was, of course, due in no small way to the planning and preparation of the speakers and ProgM SIG committee throughout the preceding months.

The quality of content and delivery of the sessions, each of which had been crafted to evidence the multi-sector and multi-discipline aspects of Programme Management, were commendable from start to finish. It also has to be said that the willingness of conference delegates to participate in the proceedings contributed to the sense of engagement. 

A constant theme, running like a golden thread throughout the day, was that effective programme management is a necessary and complimentary bedfellow of collaboration, and an important ingredient in delivering successful transformational change.

Whereas projects are essentially objective and enable the effective development and delivery of ‘products’ (some of which are can be very big products!) it was recognised that programmes are much more subjective and must be sensitive to the environment in which they are operate.

Rather than see them as obstacles, programme managers must respect and be prepared to exploit the systems and organisations surrounding them to their mutual benefit. It is this requirement for specialist and specific skills that creates a business requirement for the development of a programme management competency framework. Such a framework will enable individuals and organisations alike to evaluate and build upon their programme management capability. 

 


Some people have an innate understanding of the needs and merits of working collaboratively for example to create a programme competency framework in conjunction with cross-sector peer group. In Health, the collective experience and ideas of hundreds of people had been assimilated to evolve the NHS model for change. One key attribute of the model, hereafter referred to as a ‘framework’, is the respect that it shows for people, their respective roles and their need to work together.

 

Several terrific examples of effective collaboration were provided through case studies provided from our ‘boys in blue’ The overarching need for the continuity of protection of people, whilst managing major cultural challenge were common themes in presentations from north and south of ‘the border.’



From the response to one of many questions sent in electronically from the audience ‘what enables a ‘police officer’ to become an effective programme manager?’ it was clear that a police career sharpens the ability to accommodate and preside over diversity – a necessary leadership and people management skill for effective programme management. 

David Hawkins, the author of ‘The Collaborative framework - ISO Standard 11000’ told us that effective collaboration is really only about people and organisations coming together to have a ‘grown up conversation,’ to agree how they work together to achieve both their individual and common goals.

One ingredient which emerged during the conference, and caught me by surprise, was a common attribute of each of our speakers – passion! Each of the speakers testified to the fact that success only comes from significant human endeavour and the will to succeed over adversity. Successful transformational change does not automatically follow from adherence to frameworks and standards, but is also fundamentally dependant on the qualities and beliefs of an organisation’s people.

What this conference has clearly demonstrated is that whilst transformational change will always be a challenge, in times of austerity, and when faced with additional economic, political and technological pressures, this challenge is exacerbated. Against this backdrop, the chances of success are greatly increased by being able to draw upon an effective programme management capability whilst having the knowledge and understanding to work collaboratively.

It was clear from each of our speakers that the strength achieved through alliance and shared purpose better enables organisations to tolerate the many pressures exerted upon them.