Friday, 29 October 2010

Beating up the Public Sector

I've been reading a lot of stuff recently about "failed" projects within the public sector.

Because we've changed governments recently, there were bound to be projects that got culled. It has long been the remit of any new government party to cull the "good ideas" of the one before, so how come people suddenly think that these projects have failed? We're blaming the Project Managers for a change in political wind-direction.

According to these blogs, UK government has no idea how many projects there are and how much is being spent on them. I'm sure that there is adequate data available, but I think the problem is that there are often several categories of project within an organisation.

  • Firstly, there are the massive projects which are really high priority and status.
  • Secondly, there are the medium projects which are lower priority, but will still be run by from within a P3O.
  • Thirdly, there are the projects which are run at a department level. These are "under the radar" of the P3O, so would fall into the "not known about" - yet they are crucial to the development of the organisation.
  • Finally, there are the "non-projects" which are typically too small to be run as projects, or work-packages which are being run with some sort of project methodology.

There are usually good reasons for each and every one of these projects, but how many of these show up on the radar? Where is the cut-off point for reporting? What constitutes a government department? (Are we talking just civil service, or civil service plus QuaNGOs?)

Ask yourself this question. Do you know of all the projects which are running within your company? It's likely that if you have heads of department or directors, then you don't know the correct answer either.

The problem is that practically everything is described as a project these days. If you sit on the train, you'll hear the word "project" being talked about constantly. Are these people all project managers? Probably. Are they trained and competent? Probably not. Are they all in the public sector? Unlikely. Will their projects all be successful? Stats say that 70%+ won't.

I regularly read that over 70% of projects fail, so surely the answer is to govern and run everything through a P3O? Well maybe not, but you certainly have to think about the following:

  • If you use ad-hoc staff to manage projects, then you're re-inventing the wheel over and over again. Milosovic and Ozbay (PMI, 2001) say that this is a waste of time.
  • If you use consultants to manage projects, then you're losing "lessons learned" at the end of the project and the rule above applies.
  • If you don't train the staff, then you're planning to fail.
  • If you don't train the senior managers, then you're setting up the PM's to fail.

Government is a highly complex environment for project delivery. The trick is to be able to balance all the usual project issues and also hope that the political rug doesn't get pulled out from under your feet.

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