Be it Crossrail, the Olympics, or the Green Investment Bank, departments across government oversee some of the country’s largest projects from launch to completion – projects that are not only big in scale, but which have a far-reaching impact on economic growth and the quality of the our public services and infrastructure.
The big challenge in recent years, however, has been maintaining an exceptional standard of project delivery at the same time as implementing significant reform as an organisation – the need to become more efficient while also becoming smaller means that it has never been more important to make sure that all civil servants have the skills that they need to carry out their jobs effectively.
Visiting the Major Projects Leadership Academy
The Major Projects Leadership Academy in Oxford, which I visited on Friday, is a fantastic example of how we are meeting this challenge. It is a real success story – originally contracted for 150 delegates over three years, it has already reached 200 in under two years and is still growing. Countries such as Ireland and India have already signalled a desire to replicate the model.
The Academy is now into its 8th ‘Cohort’, and offers civil servants leading on the delivery of major projects the chance to undertake sessions which challenge them to approach problems more effectively and improve their problem-solving skills, whilst continuing to work on their major projects full-time.
It’s about transforming project leadership capability across Whitehall, and making sure that the leaders driving forward our major projects feel that they have the skills they need to do their job to the best of their ability.
When I visited the MPLA on Friday I spent the morning with the Academy’s ‘Cohort 5’, who were taking part in their second residential week on the Academy programme. I wanted to share a couple of the key messages I took away from the visit and to talk about what we are doing to help civil servants across the organisation to improve their skills.
Speaking to MPLA participants over lunch about all that they had learnt so far, the thing that really struck me was the potential for the lessons learnt to be filtered throughout departments following their completion of the course. In other words graduating from the Academy, far from being the end of the experience, is just the beginning.
The programme is designed to improve the professional development of project leaders, but the skills that it builds are of value to civil servants across the board – from building effective relationships to improving dispute resolutions skills, the potential benefits of the programme don’t stop with those who undertake it directly.
I want to take this opportunity to encourage all of those who participate in, and graduate from, the Academy to share what you have learnt – to cascade this learning within your teams and help others to benefit from your experiences.
Your time at the MPLA is invaluable and whenever you have the opportunity to share the benefits more widely, please do. As we continue to become more efficient and effective, to build our commercial capability and project management skills, we mustn’t stop at the top.
The place of project leadership
My time at the MPLA also led me to think about the role of project managers – how we can make sure that they have the opportunity to make full use of their skills.
Hearing participants use real business situations to think about how they can improve their decision-making through presentations to the group not only reinforced for me the talent that exists in leadership positions across all departments, but also the potential that the Academy programme has to help develop the sorts of skills that allow participants to move between departments and apply their knowledge.
In time I hope that the MPLA creates a pool of flexible and highly skilled project leaders who are able to step in and make a difference where it is needed most – to create the kind of environment in which SROs and project managers seek out opportunities across departments to apply their project leadership skills.
Skills across the Civil Service
There’s still a long way to go, but my visit to the MPLA left me full of optimism. Under the new leadership of John Manzoni, more thinking will be done to address capability- including how to develop the project delivery profession across government.
But the need to make sure we are as skilled as possible is broader than this. In addition to project management the Capabilities Plan, published last year, sets out how skills will be improved where digital and commercial capability as well as leading change are concerned too. Making sure that all civil servants have the skills they need to excel is good for individuals and it’s good for the organisation – which is why I cannot encourage you enough to visit the Civil Service Learning website and begin to plan how you’re going to use your minimum of five days’ learning and development.
Please do use the comments section below to share your thoughts on the learning and development you’ve undertaken – what you have enjoyed and what you think is missing.