Government project chief - ‘We need to cross the Valley of Death between policy and delivery’

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 16, 2019
Summary:
Matthew Vickerstaff, deputy CEO of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and Head of Project Finance, also said that Brexit is making government think through delivery problems in new ways.

Office work

There are fresh opportunities for project delivery being presented by Brexit and the government needs to figure out how to more closely align policy creation and service delivery, according the deputy CEO of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) and Head of Project Finance.

Matthew Vickerstaff was speaking at the government’s first Project Delivery Conference this week, where he said that there is “still a lot to do” to ensure the British government has a world leading project delivery system.

The project management and delivery profession across government now made up of 11,000 people, with 20 Heads of profession and 200 fast streamers (the government’s graduate scheme) joining each year.

Vickerstaff highlighted that the government is currently delivering projects over £450 billion, which he claims “easily rivals the private sector”. However, the aim of his speech was to encourage government to ‘lift up its gaze’ from the immediate task of delivering individual projects and “improve the way projects are delivered”. He said:

“Project Delivery isn’t just about Gantt charts and risk registers – it is also about leading teams, managing stakeholders, communications and supply chains.

“Despite our successes – we still have a journey to go in these areas.”

Vickerstaff said the government is at a “critical time” and that it needs to ‘up its game’, specifically highlighting that Brexit presents new challenges. He added:

“The complexity of Brexit is making us think through delivery problems in new ways and what we are doing now will provide lessons for the future.

“We are also trying to address many of the common delivery challenges in the upcoming Spending Review, which we will ensure has project delivery expertise at the core of spending decisions.”

Priorities

Vickerstaff said that the government needs to work at a ‘system level’, so that it doesn’t keep treating individual projects in isolation. He has identified four key areas that are a priority for improving this. They are:

  • Choosing the right projects - “This means a renewed effort on proper prioritisation and portfolio management. As it enables us to better match projects with resources, and avoid over-programming. Again the Spending Review and EU Exit is forcing us to prioritise - and this is a good thing.”
  • Set those projects up for success - “We need to cross the ‘Valley of Death’ between policy creation and delivery, and this means bringing both closer together so we can set realistic objectives, costs and schedules up front.”
  • Hold government to account through transparent performance measurement - “Understanding how projects deliver against promises is crucial; it helps us feed back into the system and improve performance over time. IPA will continue to share lessons we are learning with departments, so there’s a common and transparent view between departments and the centre. But it also requires us to be open, collaborative and honest with each other.”
  • The right people must work on the right projects - “We know that great leaders deliver great projects. We must ensure we have the most experienced leaders delivering our most complex projects. The Profession needs to be more flexible, have a broader toolkit and more diverse skillset. For example, we are already seeing the impact of technology, so we need to adapt to keep pace.”

My take

It’s great to finally see someone in a senior leadership position in government talking about aligning policy and service delivery. We’ve seen some great grassroots movements in Whitehall - in the form of One Team Gov - where those working in policy or delivery professions are coming together to figure out how they can better integrate and work together. However, I would argue that for it to be a pervasive movement, and for projects to move away from the waterfall approach, leadership is needed to drive it through.