Building ambition into ‘project restart’

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The prime minister’s ‘build, build, build’ speech in Dudley followed by the Chancellor’s economic statement marked the beginning of the economic response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Whilst the prime minister’s announcement was mostly around a set of commitments around transport infrastructure, the prime minister made a comparison with the US 1930s new deal public works initiative under President Roosevelt (FDR). Indeed, it was FDR himself who famously declared:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.

This sentiment seems relevant for the current plight we are in. Public, private and voluntary sectors alike have had to adapt at great pace in the wake of a dramatic lockdown. But if there is any light we can take from this crisis it is that project management skills are increasingly being seen as essential to the recovery – whether we describe this as ‘project restart’, the World Economic Forum’s ‘the great reset’ or the government’s code name: ‘project speed’!

As APM chief executive Debbie Dore mentioned in reaction to the speech: “Whilst the prime minister’s proposals and emphasis on ‘build, build, build’ is welcome, this needs to be more than a one-off big spend. This should be both a sustainable and sustained approach and have a strong focus on the requirements of successful project delivery, both in capacity and capability.”

This applies equally to with the chancellor’s package of economic measures. As I said in a previous blog, it is important that we are brave and imaginative in any infrastructure (digital as well as physical) and other investment projects – and be prepared to take risks. The National Infrastructure Strategy is due out in the next few months and will no doubt need to have to have flexibility built into its plans. Arguably the pandemic is proving to be the catalyst for change in the guise of a common enemy.

From an APM perspective, it is important that the recovery has ‘locked in’ long term solutions that will decarbonise the economy, promote biodiversity and protect climate change whilst investing in infrastructure – both physical and digital – to support the development of economic trends underway before COVID-19, and invest in the future-proofed skillsets like project management.

Our member feedback indicates that the skills the project profession offers are more in demand than ever and are crucial to the challenge of change from this pandemic. Project professionals have adaptable skills so can transfer their skills to where the economy and society requires – as demonstrated by the civil service over the past few months. And we can do this with alacrity, using laser-like focus and rapid yet effective decision making.

As our research (APM ‘The Golden Thread, 2019, 2020’ ) demonstrates there is increasing evidence of the importance of project management skills as pivotal to the successful set up and delivery of projects of all sizes. As much of this ‘project restart’ will be delivered via projects, it is important to invest in project skills, to ensure there is adequate capability to deliver these projects – and project restart itself – successfully.

But if this ‘project restart’ is to succeed it needs investment in the skillsets and training essential to underpin this. People deliver projects. Greater investment and focus on project professionalism are essential to the proper inception, delivery and completion of projects and should be central to the National Infrastructure Strategy. And the project profession can put its shoulder to the wheel in helping to implement new training initiatives as well as help with new construction techniques as well as remote working to help the property and construction sector to thrive.

As we have said before, good project outcomes require the right conditions for success. Any 'surge' in new projects must be matched by the capability to deliver them effectively and with the public good in mind, and when they are geographically linked in particular, as a portfolio. The delivery of these projects needs to factor in rapid changes in technological innovation, carbon and net zero ambitions.

Whether projects form part of plans for tackling disease and pandemics, building digital infrastructure like 5G, tackling the effects of climate change or planning the construction of new homes, it is important that people have the right attributes and skillsets to adapt and thrive, and that we recognise the impact of localism on our new world and the need to even out the regional imbalances.

Now is the time for raw ambition from our profession. We can and should play a vital part in the ‘project restart’. To return to the words of a Roosevelt – this time Eleanor Roosevelt – “you must do the things you think you cannot do”.

Not a bad ambition in this time of crisis?

APM's latest Golden Thread report – is now available to download. The third report in the Golden Thread series looks at three sectors where project management skills are increasingly being utilised to run projects more professionally.


Image: iurii/Shutterstock


Posted by Sue Kershaw on 13th Jul 2020

About the Author

Sue has enjoyed a broad career in civil engineering and project management, with challenges ranging from glass staircases to flood defences, and nuclear power stations to mass transit schemes in the UK and Far East. Her most rewarding role was as deputy director of transport at the Olympic Delivery Authority This work has left a lasting legacy not only for the users of these systems now, but for how the transport industry works together. With the enhanced transport connectivity in place after the games, the regeneration of East London has been catapulted forward. Sue is a Fellow and Honorary Fellow of APM, is the APM President and would like to leave a personal legacy to the APM. She aims to define and plan the delivery strategy for the APM vision, along with growing the profession through integrated and collaborative working with other PPM organisations. Sue wants to celebrate our strong ability to successfully manage major projects and programmes and explore development of these leadership skills, while developing a legacy ethos to plough back our knowledge and expertise to attract the best to our profession, and retain them. Sue would like to make APM an even better place than it is now, with better services for its members, and even more reflective of the rapidly changing profession and client and supplier needs.

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