Features: February 7th, 2003

Improving Programme and Project Delivery

By Julian Walker, Office of Public Services Reform

Reproduced by permission of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies

The latest Spending Review White Paper highlighted the need for increased investment to be matched by reform. Greater accountability is being placed on Ministers and Permanent Secretaries to improve delivery of Government business. Sir Andrew Turnbull added to this impetus on his appointment as Cabinet Secretary. He wants to create a Civil Service that is respected as much for its capacity to deliver as for its policy skills. He will be making Permanent Secretaries accountable for building their departmental capability to deliver, as well as actual delivery, and has identified programme and project management as an area in which skills need to be raised.

For some time now, effective programme and project management has been seen as vital to improving both the capability and capacity of the Civil Service to deliver. In September 2001, a cross-departmental project -‘ Improving Programme and Project Delivery’ (IPPD) – was set up to tackle the Civil Service’s weakness in this area. The project, led by the Office of Public Services Reform (OPSR), is developing a package of measures that, together with departmental commitment, will help to achieve significant and sustained improvement in programme and project delivery.

Solutions are being developed in three areas: People and Skills; Systems, Processes and Toolkits; and Organisational Structures and Support. Of course, programme and project management is not a new discipline in the Civil Service – the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) has successfully applied it to IT, procurement and construction for a number of years. IPPD is building on OGC’s experience and translating the principles of programme and project management for the policy world – helping non-technical staff and Senior Civil Servants (SCS) to understand and apply the appropriate light-touch techniques to the development of policy and implementation of outcomes.

A consultative approach

To be successful IPPD’s outputs need to be owned and implemented within Departments, and for that to happen they need to be useful. IPPD has worked with colleagues from Departments and central units, during both the development and testing phases, to see what already works and where the gaps are. Input from the Department for Education and Skills, Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence, and HM Customs and Excise has been particularly valuable as they have been applying programme and project management to areas of their work for a number of years. An important interface for consultation has been the User Group – a collection of 35 programme/project practitioners from over 20 Government organisations. Supporting this is a steering group comprising Permanent Secretaries from three Departments plus senior staff from central Government including, Wendy Thompson and Michael Barber from the Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office and Peter Gershon, Chief Executive of the Office for Government Commerce.

Time for action

IPPD’s research has found that the main barriers to applying programme and project management begin with a lack of understanding of the discipline and the benefits it can bring. This is accompanied by a lack of relevant skills, oversight, facilitative structures and tools to do the job. IPPD has now made its findings and solutions available to the Civil Service. They include ‘fast track’ work with a number of ‘early adopter’ Departments keen to improve their delivery skills.

Working with early adopter Departments

Based on its development research, IPPD has produced an ‘offer’ that sets out the structures, skills and tools required by Departments to enable successful delivery of programme and projects. It provides a menu of solutions from which Departments can select priorities.


In order to implement programme/project management successfully, departmental structures require three key components: Management Board oversight of key programmes – providing assurance to Ministers by managing risks and interdependencies between major programmes, setting strategic priorities and having a full understanding of the Department’s current challenges and capacity to deliver. A ‘Centre of Excellence’ to facilitate the implementation of programme management; provide progress data to the Board; support and evaluate projects and programmes; highlight competence and capacity issues; spread good practice internally and network externally to learn from other Departments. Acco untable leaders –Senior Responsible

Owners (SROs) – appointed for each programme, with support structures in place to assist them in performing this role.


IPPD has developed an on-line toolkit to help staff improve policy delivery using programme and project management. It offers a simple way in to programme and project management tools and techniques, scaleable to the size, complexity and type of project or programme being delivered. It takes users through the things they need to do at each stage of the delivery cycle, offering guidance, templates and practical examples throughout. It also includes tools for more experienced practitioners and is available to all Departments free of charge via the OGC Successful Delivery Toolkit www.ogc.gsi.gov.uk/sdtoolkit.  A lot of input was received from Departments during its development, thus avoiding the need for DfES and Department of Trade and Industry to invent their own systems.


Structures and toolkits are only useful if the right skills are in place to make them work. departments need to assess their current position, and develop an HR strategy for increasing their programme and project management capability. To do this they need to understand the business needs and match the supply of skills to this demand. IPPD will work with early adopters to assess their existing skills and work up a strategic HR plan to fill the gaps, including recruitment; promotion; appraisal; incentives and rewards; and training and development. 4


Research commissioned by IPPD and CMPS shows that programme and project management is already being used to improve policy making and delivery across the Civil Service. Key benefits include:

  • helping to manage complexity and uncertainty – two common characteristics of
  • the policy-making process.
  • helping to minimise risk as much as maximise success.
  • stronger planning and communication, with decisions recorded and monitored,
  • roles and responsibilities articulated, risks identified and managed, and dependencies made explicit.
  • better evidence base for submissions to Ministers – especially for risk assessment,
  • resource allocations and realistic timetables for delivery.
  • ‘forcing foresight’ into the policy making process as it is focused on the end vision.
  • contributing to wider organizational change where greater emphasis is given to policy delivery

Beyond IPPD

IPPD appreciates that it cannot change the world in just over one year. But with its targeted and tailored approach it can provide a good push to get the wheels in motion. Centres of Excellence are now in place in a number of Departments, with Management Boards. In order to maintain the momentum towards the wider and better use of programme and project management, and continue shared learning when the project is complete, IPPD will ‘network’ the Centres of Excellence and User Group members across Government, putting in place processes to ensure it continues. Work is currently underway to make IPPD findings and solutions part of the Departmental Change Programme, which includes an assessment of programme /project management as part of overall departmental performance, plus the work of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. On top of this, the office for Government Commerce will continue to champion its use and provide ongoing support.

For more details read the full report at www.cmps.gov.uk/policyhub

Julian Walker is at the Office of Public Services Reform.