SWWE branch 7th Annual Dinner 13th October 2015

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Posted by APM on 27th Oct 2015

The Branch was delighted to organise the seventh annual SWWE Dinner, held again at the Hilton Bristol. Following pre-dinner drinks and networking, Martin Gosden, Branch Chair, welcomed the 57 guests and thanked them their support, especially those who had taken tables including, Aspire, Babcock, BMT HiQ Sigma, and Graay. Martin was very pleased to be able to welcome our guest of honour, Sara Drake, APM’s new CEO, and invited Sara to say a few words before dinner.

Sara thanked members for the opportunity to meet and to listen to their views about the profession.  She introduced herself and highlighted her background in law, the media, professional services and professional bodies in the built environment sector. She has both private, public and not for profit sector experience, and has a passion for education and lifelong learning.

She saw that APM was at an interesting moment in the establishment of the profession, with the case for PM having been made by the Government and increasing public awareness and interest. She outlined a number of challenges. How to meet the needs of Professionals with portfolio careers and how to ensure skills and experience remain relevant and transferable in a rapidly changing globalised economy.  An increasing emphasis on behavioural competence together with a diversity agenda to ensure that a range of talent is attracted to the profession. In promoting the profession as a career of first choice APM will need to influence stakeholders and also look to work in partnership with others.

Following the excellent dinner, Martin Gosden introduced our speaker, Tim Banfield, Director of Strategy, and Head of Profession of the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority, (MPA).

Tim’s entertaining and humorous talk included some jokes to illustrate his views on the challenges for the project management profession in the public sector.

Tim’s first point was that the media always focus on things that go wrong, but the UK is actually very good at delivery and has been since the Victorian infrastructure projects. A recent example being the Ministry of Justice’s prisoner rehabilitation project. But what is project success?  Tim argued that the ‘iron triangle’ is a poor measure of success as it does not account for the realisation of benefits. Was the Millennium dome a failure or an iconic success?  It has been portrayed as both in the media, the latter more recently.  Tim’s view is that we need to define success in terms of long term benefits and not just short term Return on Investment.  As an example He highlighted the Scottish Government benefits model which focuses on benefits for the whole country, as opposed to the more limited focus of the UK Government’s model. His view was that we plan to fail if we do not measure the right metrics and focus on the delivery of benefits.

The discipline of project management is reasonably mature, and the expectation of the public and media is for project success and that failure is not acceptable. All projects and especially public sector projects have to be delivered in an environment of uncertainly. It is a fact of life that Politics brings a high level of uncertainly and changing priorities.  For public sector projects, this reality needs to be recognised, accepted and planned for. The challenge is how to better manage uncertainty when project managers are looking for certainty, but cannot have it. The key question is what does success mean?

Tim then turned to the issue of how to attract the best project management recruits.  The MPA has set up a specific ‘fast stream’ career route for project managers and also apprenticeships.  But with portfolio careers expected to become the norm, how do you excite people to join in the first place and also to attract them back later in a career.  People will build portfolios of competence sets over their careers; this presents a challenge for APM as to how to address this need in the future.

Recruitment of project professionals also has to account for an increasingly competitive for the best staff. A focus on diversity is needed to attract the best talent from across a wide range of experience and industry sectors, not just the traditional engineering and construction sectors.

Continuing on the people theme, Tim explained that people deliver projects; the focus has to be on how to lead, facilitate and motivate them effectively. Project delivery professionals in government touch everyone in the UK and it is essential to have the right people, with the right skills, behavioural competences and knowledge to do this. One of the challenges face by organisations is how to facilitate the transfer of learning and knowledge between people, to share and learn from good practice.  Knowledge can only be shared through dialogue, by meeting with and talking to people. How is this best facilitated?  Social media type approaches can be very effective to help put people in touch with others who can share their knowledge and experience.

Finally Tim finished with another joke involving a shop of monkeys, the most expensive of which was a project management monkey.  If only that was reflected in our salaries!

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chair

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