Build Organisational Capability and Accountability

This blog is the third in the Major Projects Matter series, exploring the nature of major projects and what they mean to practitioners, governments and academics.

Blog 1: Why care about major projects?

Blog 2: The digital transformation flood is upon us

Your views and comments on this blog are encouraged and welcomed.

Transformation projects are one important type of major project

Transformation projects are found in public organisations seeking to deliver a stated policy and operational imperatives. They are commissioned to deliver a range of value for money (VfM) advantages, which include economic innovation (efficiency), improved social architecture and relationships (effectiveness), and public good with the public (fairness and equality).

Major transformation projects in government are used to deliver to large scale policy and operational changes. To illustrate the magnitude, the Infrastructure and Project Authority reported the whole life cost of the 40 major transformation projects they monitor to be worth £71.1 billion in their 2016/17 annual report. This amounts to an average of £1.8 billion per project.

Major transformation projects are often complex and challenging to deliver

Major Transformation Projects typically deliver change over multiple phases and many years. They generally require new operating models, innovative ways of working, cultural shifts and affect the way services are delivered to citizens and businesses.

Delivering transformations in the public context, makes delivery of the stated VfM promises additionally complex and challenging. The decision-making processes are by their nature collaborative and consultative. Often the service delivery chain is extended, with many involved organisations and stakeholders. Investments in change and the delivery of change are often done by different organisations or independent groups within an organisation.

What should organisations do to get it right?

A research project conducted by the Association for Project Management (APM) Enabling Change Special Interest Group (SIG) studied change in the public sector. This study found that organisational capability and accountability were relevant to getting it right.

The study defined organisational capability as a combination of embedded routines that provide an advantage to the organisation. For example, the way an organisation manages its resources, including employees, will lead to an advantage or disadvantage. The study identified four dimensions of organisational capability to be developed by public-sector organisations when delivering change:

  • Maintaining strong and consistent leadership.
  • Communicating a coherent vision and clear goals.
  • Embracing a culture of disciplined planning and realistic timelines.
  • Establishing sufficient investment for end-to-end change.

Accountability refers to relationships involving answerability, an obligation to report or give an account of actions and non-actions. Public-sector organisations are ultimately accountable to government and parliament, which is accountable to the public through elections and similar constitutional forces. The study identified two dimensions of accountability that impact the delivery of change in public-sector organisations:

• Engaging stakeholders early and throughout the change.
• Ensuring sustainability beyond the life of the change project.

If one or more of the identified criteria were absent, the change largely resulted in failure. Although some of the criteria might appear familiar, each was found to have a distinctive meaning in a public-sector context.

To find out what the public service organisations studied did during their transformation projects to get it right, download a copy of the research report.

Major projects matter

Future Major Project Matter blogs will explore some of my other experiences and insights. Your views and comments on this blog are also encouraged and welcomed.

a blog by @andrewschuster