Why Project Assurance Isn’t Working

It’s just over a year since I wrote a post about the introduction of the UK government Major Projects Portfolio that just so happened to coincide with the launch of the new Management of Portfolios (MoP) document. The National Audit Office (NAO) has just published its Assurance for Major Projects report on how effective the Major Projects Authority has been.

First some bare facts. The portfolio is valued at £376bn and contains some 205 projects with 92% of them coming from just 5 government departments – Pareto and more to be sure. This is significant in anyone’s book and one would have thought that the effective management of such a portfolio would have extremely high priority in almost any business.

While the report makes some encouraging comments in its findings on how this new project assurance approach has started the observation that

“Some organisations are not yet engaging with the system in a consistent way, and useful information is not being shared and used to best effect”

is particularly worrying and one that suggests a need to change an entrenched behavioural set amongst government officials. It is yet to be seen whether the new Major Projects Leadership Academy will drive such a change. It needs to.

A lack of collaboration amongst government departments is of real concern, if not a surprise, and the report picks out 5 key areas that must be corrected to allow improvements to be make and give everyone confidence that projects are being effectively managed.

  1. Some departments have engaged poorly with the system.
  2. HM Treasury has not engaged as strongly as we would have expected at a senior level.
  3. The Authority has not yet developed a formal system to capture, analyse and share insights from individual projects and reviews.
  4. Government major project portfolio data is not being used to manage the government’s balance sheet.
  5. Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and the departments have not yet agreed how to publish project information.

None of these 5 is particularly challenging or indeed should have been a surprise. Given the introduction of a change such as this any competent project manager would have assessed the potential risks and gauged likely stakeholder support and developed a plan for implementation that took those into account.

So, why aren’t lessons being learnt

Very little of what the report describes can be considered new to anyone who has been involved with the public sector or any large scale projects and portfolios. So why aren’t the experiences of the past being taken forward into a continuously improving way of doing business?

Rick Brenner, in his article Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why makes some excellent observations on why it can be so hard for organizations to learn lessons from one project to another. Much of what he covers is relevant to why there is a lack of collaboration and communication across business operations and in this case government departments who, at the end of the day, are all part of the same organization.

We can only hope that as the Major Projects Portfolio becomes more established and people get used to what is really required, the performance across the different government departments begins to improve. Let’s hope.

Related Articles

Peer Reviews For Programmes and Projects
How To Do A Post Project Review
What’s In Your Portfolio

Picture courtesy of www.pictfigo.com


2 thoughts on “Why Project Assurance Isn’t Working

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the NOAs report. I think your conclusions have much to do with leaders concealing the truth. Dishonest cultures struggle to improve because people say and do what is expected. Not what is needed.

    • Thanks Martin. You’re right, concealment of the truth and an unwillingness to accept responsibility so as to look after their own career progression (up a ladder) doesn’t help the delivery of any business’s objectives – so prevalent in the public sector unfortunately.

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