Building project-management capacity in the Irish Civil Service
24 October 2017
Derek Tierney introduces the Project Management Handbook for the Irish Civil Service
There are numerous reasons why project management as a discipline is important to business organisations. Simply put, when done right, it helps companies save money by increasing overall project success rates.
A 2009 study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (1) found that 80% of global executives believed their core competencies in project management allowed them to remain competitive during the recession. Achieving project management success is not always a simple process. For example, a 2012 McKinsey & Company/University of Oxford study (1) of large-scale IT projects found that, on average, they run 45% over budget, some 7% over time and deliver 56% less value.
More recently, according to Harvard professor and aerospace engineer-turned-economist Dr Michael Porter, recognised as the founder of the modern business strategy field and one of the world’s most influential thinkers on management and competitiveness, “Project management is now a core discipline of management – it is the pre-eminent method for making things happen and implementing change in the world.”
Careful attention to the many threads that comprise project management is compulsory to improving these kinds of statistics and creating successful outcomes.
What does this all this mean for building project capacity in the Civil Service? To put it into to context, there is not a person in our country who is not dependent in some way on the services designed, developed or delivered by the Civil Service.
Whether it is in education or travel, security or defence, enterprise or welfare, taxation or agriculture, employment rights or health, arts or sport, housing or transport, everyday all of the people who live in Ireland and many of our citizens abroad benefit from the services that we design, develop or deliver on their behalf.
To do this, the Civil Service, comprising some 37,000 staff, manages billions of euro worth of current and capital expenditure and oversee the activities of organisations that employ a further 300,000 people. And it accounts for the quality of its work to the Government, the Oireachtas, the Ombudsman and, increasingly, through the Open Government agenda, to the public.
Managing Civil Service projects
Increasingly, the work of civil servants comprises of sets of projects; projects to evaluate how services and polices are working, projects to introduce new services and policies, projects to change how existing services and policies are implemented and managed, and projects to deliver once-off programmes and events.
In a world of competing priorities, tight deadlines and scarce resources, the art and skill of project management is now a core competency for all managers.
The Civil Service Management Board (CSMB) recognises that well-managed projects are critical to how we work, to the successful achievement of Government priorities, to the management of public finances and, most importantly, to the delivery of high quality services to the public.
Project management supports the identification and establishment of milestones to be achieved across projects, it helps with the prioritisation of activities and the effective allocation of scarce resources, it enables the monitoring and the reporting of progress, and it provides a solid basis for sound financial management and control.
The Civil Service Renewal Plan published in 2014 set out a programme of actions to be completed and Action 17 aims to “improve project management capacity”. The CSMB subsequently agreed a programme of work which was led by an established Project Management Leaders and Advisory Service (PMLAS), comprising senior managers from the Department of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Transport, Tourism & Sport, Social Protection as well as the Revenue Commissioners and the Office of Public Works.
PMLAS has since progressed with this programme of work including establishing a Project Managers’ Network (PMN) of some 200 participants. PLMAS has also developed and published a Project Management Handbook for the Civil Service that sets out a standardised project management approach based on the proven models currently in practice.
This was peer reviewed by external experts in project management and also provides reference to other supporting Regulation, Codes and Guides that exist across the civil service. The handbook and supporting toolkit is also hosted on a web portal that can be accessed across the Civil Service and that is also used to provide a contacts database of and for network members, facilitate the organisation/administration of network events and host resources for network members.
Learning and development
PMLAS has worked with other colleagues leading Action 9 ‘Learning and Development’ (L&D) under the Civil Service renewal to progress the introduction of project management training as part of induction and ongoing continuing professional development. The first offering that is a two-day foundation in project management has been piloted and is scheduled for rollout over the coming months.
Other complimentary PM-related L&D offerings are under active development by the Action 9 team to increase capacity to change and innovate across the Civil Service e.g. change awareness, introducing managers to change, innovation and delivering change, and change management: materialise the vision.
Lastly, PMLAS has arranged four large network events to date, where case studies and experts in the field of project management have shared their experiences and insights. Feedback has been positive and future events are currently being planned. The next network event is scheduled for 21 November and provisional dates for four events are scheduled for 2018.
(1) ‘Closing the gap: The link between project management excellence and long-term success‘, Economist Intelligence Unit, October 2009
Derek Tierney, head of Public Transport Investment Division, Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport