Brexit - a huge portfolio management challenge
The APM Report ‘BREXIT – The Great British Project?’ is an excellent editorial with a terrific title but gives a misleading message for two reasons.
Firstly, describing it as the "British" project does not help set the conditions for success. This needs to be a collaborative venture with our 'to be erstwhile' EU partners. Presenting this as a 'British' venture suggests a win-lose approach which will become mutual lose. We (aka UK government) needs to manage this as a collaborative ‘project’ and could do a lot worse than review the recently published 'Governance of Co-Owned Projects'.
Secondly, 'project' is the wrong term and wrong way of thinking. The project output is 'easy' - exit will be achieved in Mar 2019 - 'hard' or 'soft', under WTO or other terms. The challenge is the 'outcome' - the result of careful management of multiple different interrelated projects - in other words: a programme. And the approach to a complex programme is (and needs to be) very different from that of a project. The UK government has become quite good at this in the past decade (or so) - largely where it has recognised that it does not possess a good programme management in house skill set and it has recognised the benefits of bringing in help and has set up strong internal governance. Last time we had a similar situation with a 'hard' deadline was the 2012 Olympics - and look at what happened there and what were the causes of success.
As the article points out, this is actually a huge portfolio management challenge for UK government - the like of which (arguably) we have not seen before in peacetime. Let us hope that, with the investment made in the Major Projects Leadership Academy, there are enough alumni sprinkled around the corridors of Whitehall who understand the portfolio, programme and project issues (and the governance and sponsorship implications) to ensure we do not fall into the trap of thinking that it must all be done in-house. The Civil Service is outstanding at many things - policy, strategy and diplomacy in particular - but many would argue that (with a few notable exceptions) P3 delivery is not at the forefront of these skills. Perhaps some of them might read this blog and ponder...
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Sustainability is an aspect that is only occasionally given the same level of effort or attention it deserves, particularly in commercially led programmes where the focus tends to be toward achieving a fixed return on investment or a defined payback period.
The challenge for organisations is the fact that the project manager they put in charge is a large part of the story of success - however, hiring organisations honestly don't know how to tell them apart beyond simple educational experience and project qualifications.