In the early 200?’s the Project Management Centre of Excellence within the Ontario Ministry of Government Services developed the OPS Integrated Project Management Framework Methodology (OPS-IPMFM). A massive step forward from my days in the OPS during the 1990’s where we commonly adapted the “Just Wing It” approach to project management.

The OPS-IPMFM integrated the idea of the Business Case being front and centre to the start of a project and used the ideas of stages/phases/gates  to control the progress and make well informed decisions about how and even IF the project should succeed.

As I travelled through my project management career from informal & ad-hoc project management, to understanding the formality suggested by the Project Management Institute (PMI©) and on to the methods and how to’s detailed in PRINCE2© it occurred to me that the realities of today’s public sector projects are not unlike those I encountered early in my career as a civil servant, nor are they different to those faced by the UK Government when the designed and development PRINCE2 as a project management methodology.

Key risks facing any public sector project include:

  • Changing political environment – e.g. A change in Executive for the project, a change in priority of the project which might lead to reduced resource assignment or cutback of funding.
  • Pressure to do more with less –e.g. Budgets being stretched and projects are started with insufficient funding and insufficient acknowledgement of risk and the cost that may be incurred to minimize risk.
  • Pressure for visible progress –e.g. A “Get the project started as quickly as possible” attitude often leads to a lack of or minimal planning.
  • Aging infrastructure – There is a focus on the short term (within the current fiscal year, within the current government term) and minimal vision on how decisions made now might affect the longer term.

And from a project management specific perspective: A lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the Executive and the Project Manager.

Project Management is by definition risk management.  PRINCE2 was developed by the UK Government in response to many of these risks to increase the chance of project success; to help those within the organization acknowledge the realities of public sector projects and to plan the projects in such a way that they don’t get away from us.  All of this is done by way of realistic decision making at regular intervals in a project.

PRINCE2 establishes key decision points by the Executive to enable the Project Manager to control the project within defined constraints (tolerances in PRINCE2) as set by the organization:

  1. The PM uses the project mandate/trigger to develop a business case and project brief to enable the executive to get a high-level understanding about the project PRIOR to an investment in planning.
  2. A high level project plan (and supporting information – assembled in the Project Initiation Documentation) is established with major milestones, deliverables and most importantly stage boundaries to enable the Executive and the organization to maintain control at an overall level.
  3. Funding and resources are released one stage at a time.  This acknowledges that the project environment changes and the project plan & detailed stage plans must adapt accordingly.

Being specific about establishing a business case with stated reasons and benefits, helps any government organization establish the link between a project and the on-going service delivery objectives they must maintain to the citizens.  Regularly checking that the project continues to be justified against that business case and that the benefits are still forecasted to be realized helps to stop projects when necessary and divert funds to other more worthwhile projects.

There are too many projects that continue that are not longer justified against the realization of expected benefits. PRINCE2 helps make those difficult decisions part of the best practice way of doing projects.

A project that is stopped for a good reason is a business success.

A project that continues and can be shown to be justified is a bigger success.