Now having had the chance to reflect on this year’s APM conference, the event pitch seems more than an apt trailblazer! Listening, and contributing, to the wide range of conversations on the value (and necessity) of change, and how to make this happen, left me feeling inspired by what’s possible but also reassured that everyone is grappling with the challenges in getting change right.
Personally, through my audit work across government’s major programmes, I often see costly, risky, complex, and important programmes, having to change. Take, for example, plans for High Speed Euston 2 Station having to adjust following affordability constraints; or changes needed to realise the wider benefits of the Elizabeth Line with COVID-19 impacting passenger numbers; or disagreements with contractors and a lack of progress meaning the Ministry of Defence’s Ajax armoured vehicle programme having to be ‘reset’.
During the conference, I was able to share the NAO’s insights on how we have seen change (or resets) work across government. However, it was Carmel McConnel’s inspiring keynote that set an invaluable context and framework for this session, alongside many of the other discussions. It helped to spark thoughts and open people’s minds to the value of change and, importantly, how we all play a role to help realise it. Her experience combined with real life illustrations of the power of those little steps towards a common, clear purpose made everyone stop to think about the possible.
Another highlight from the day was listening to the panel discussion on engaging stakeholders to affect change. The importance of understanding and managing stakeholders is a given but, across government, we have seen real challenges in getting this right. Bringing along those with different perspectives and understanding their approaches, needs and demands is no mean feat. We have seen the importance of having a clear reason for change, to keep stakeholders on board, alongside the necessity of bringing all those stakeholders essential to the programme’s success together. It was interesting to hear from the panel, including Nicola Hibbs from Heathrow Airport, on how to put this into practice and the real need to take the time to consider others’ perspectives — what does this change mean for different stakeholders?
Another takeaway was the value sharing and discussing issues and solutions with people from across the profession. In preparing for my panel discussion, I heard the perspectives of my fellow panellists (Jack Hewitt and Andy Sawko) which was invaluable for me in sense-checking and, considering how a programme approach with more stage-gate reviews to stop, pause and reconsider can reduce the need for more significant change.
I often come away from these events buzzing with inspirational ideas and grand plans — I wasn’t let down here. However, in the days after a conference, the real challenge is thinking about how to apply these new insights into your day-to-day work.
For future NAO insights work we are planning to organise more panels for discussion and to challenge our insights from across government’s major programmes. Also, given the level of change across government, I have been reflecting on how much change or uncertainty can be planned for and, in particular, trying to answer the question: how can the need for change be reflected in the planning and up-front arrangements? We are currently drawing together our insights on planning and managing uncertainty — look out for this on the NAO website in August.
Looking ahead, and with the phrase ‘change is the only constant’ in mind, I am sad to be moving away from my NAO role leading our Major Programme Delivery Insights team. As with any change, with my colleague Lee-Anne Murray taking the reins, this creates a great opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate our work — here’s to our invaluable dialogue with the APM and its member community continuing!
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