Celebrating International Project Management Day with a Success Story

4th November is the International Project Management Day, a day intended “to encourage project based organizations worldwide or organizations who utilize project management methodologies to schedule some type of recognition event within their organizations or coordinated locally with others to truly demonstrate appreciation for the achievements of project managers and their teams“. So if you’re never heard of this date in the project management calendar before maybe next year might be the best time to have a little think about what this might mean in your world.

I wanted to celebrate a success story I heard recently – from one of Arras People’s clients – that certainly does demonstrate how the work of project management can make a difference and more importantly in this particular case – that not all public sector projects are a failure.

At the APM Conference two weeks ago I listened to Alex Pumfrey, Programme Director from Digital UK talking about the success so far of the digitial TV switchover programme. The programme kicked off in 2008 and will complete in 2012 and is the biggest broadcasting engineering programme ever undertaken in the UK (26 million homes in the UK and 60 million TV sets!) A programme which is also the largest UK public change programme since decimalisation in 1971. The sheer numbers of stakeholders (800+) alone would make most project professionals shiver a little however the delivery team at Digital UK is just four people strong (Programme Manager, 2 x Project Managers, 1 support). Alex was the first to admit her own background means she is not a project manager at heart however she has taken a layman’s approach to programme management which in many ways has been a help not a hindrance. She also stated that the success so far has been down to hiring smart, friendly and sociable people on the delivery team – mainly due to the type of stakeholders they have and the types of organisations they have to interact with on a daily basis. The style of project management at DigitalUK has been quite literally simple – they keep it simple. This approach has meant that to date the programme is on time, under budget and 25% of the country have completed the switchover.

There were some takeaways from the presentation which was entitled “Ten Transferable Lessons from the UK’s Switchover Programme” which really should be applicable to every other public funded project;

  1. A single purpose centralised delivery model
  2. Legal and regulatory underpinning
  3. Commercial management delivering a public purpose
  4. Sufficient and safeguarded funding
  5. Alignment of infrastructure and communications
  6. Working with the market
  7. A clear, attainable timetable with a moment of compulsion
  8. Layered communication model that reaches into communications
  9. Practical support for most vulnerable
  10. Mobilising existing support networks

The single purpose centralised delivery model is all about acting as a central organising hub – Digital UK has interactions with retail organisations, BBC, government, charities, installers, Ofcom, housing associations etc etc. The delivery model was responsible for ensuring the programme management structure; co-ordinating stakeholders; ownership of the targets with a specific objective of ensuring the successful delivery of the whole programme. It is also worth noting that Digital UK are independent and as such could have fresh, open and honest relationships with major stakeholders like the BBC and government. Maybe all public funded programmes and projects should be “independent” and of course having point 4 above – sufficient and safeguarded funding – which is not at the mercy of each passing minister would certainly help a great deal.

The other point which I think is being made more and more about public funded projects is the need for commercial management skills. Even though the funding was committed and safeguarded, the delivery team were certainly cute when it came to working with media and advertising outlets. Most people will probably have seen the character above on numerous TV advertisements – and that’s where some of the programme budget was saved. In recent times the cost of advertising reduced quite dramatically due to the recession and the digital programme was able to save some of its budget by managing and negotiating this area of the programme well.

The programme still has two years to run (another 20 million homes to be delivered) but it seems to me that this public programme will be one that doesn’t appear on the failure list and I hope they make their success heard loud and clear in 2012.


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