Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Association for Project Management (CSR 21)


Association for Project Management (APM) is the lead professional body for project management in the UK, and is the largest independent professional body of its kind in Europe with around 19,750 individual and 500 corporate members throughout the UK and abroad.

APM is committed to encouraging and developing the highest standards of professionalism in project management.

The Civil Service Reform Plan demonstrates the Government’s commitment to improving capability and skills, including an emphasis on those that are vital for delivering major projects effectively and efficiently.

The crucial importance of project management skills in the public sector is increasingly recognised and has been regularly cited by the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Public Accounts Select Committee (PAC).

Major public sector projects are often large and complex by nature and require highly competent project managers and other project professionals to run them. Recruiting appropriately qualified project and programme managers represents good governance and will help reduce the risk of projects overrunning, exceeding their budgets or failing to deliver their intended benefits.

Continued professional development (CPD) is a hallmark of UK professionalism and is vital in order that project management skills are kept up-to-date to meet emerging needs and trends—the creation of project management communities of practice within individual departments can be a key contributor to such CPD

APM welcomed the establishment of the Major Projects Leadership Academy which was set up to address the issues of development and retention of the skills of senior project leaders across the civil service. The Academy’s focus on leadership and on “mindset, not methodology” also highlights the importance of the public sector acting as an “intelligent client”, a theme APM has promoted strongly in its campaign for enhancing professionalism.

Recognition by all appropriate stakeholders across government that project management is a discrete profession will assist government in acting as an “intelligent client”

To ensure continuity and accountability, Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) should remain in post and retain responsibility during key phases of a project’s lifecycle.

Improving overall Project Management Capability and Skills

1. Public sector projects are typically large and ambitious, driven by a mixture of changing policy, and political, financial, and regulatory considerations. Extended timescales and multiple stakeholder groups often add to their complexity. It is vital, therefore, that the Civil Service develops, recruits and retains expertise and skills in project sponsorship and delivery.

2. The NAO and PAC have both identified the shortage of highly skilled project managers as a major barrier to meeting important political priorities. In its report, Commercial Skills for Complex Government Projects, the NAO stated that project management remained a priority area for public sector recruitment and training.

3. In the NAO report, Identifying and Meeting Central Government’s Skills Requirements, published in November 2009, the professional composition of the senior civil service was examined. It found that approximately one quarter of operational delivery and project management roles were filled by staff who were not experts in these fields.1 Furthermore, the Report found that only one% of roles in central government relate to the project management profession, despite this being an acknowledged critical skill.2 With a raft of major public sector projects planned, failure to address skills shortages in this area risks weakening future capability to deliver these successfully.

4. By stressing the importance of effective project and programme management skills to the delivery of government objectives, the report provides valuable context to the work undertaken by APM in raising the standards of project management professionalism in private and public sector alike. The report records the significant efforts to professionalise the civil service in recent years, but notes that standards associated with particular professions are not always reflected in recruitment to posts. For areas of business where depth of experience is critical to capability, the NAO urges Government Departments to take greater control of recruitment to ensure business needs are met by using professional standards to inform decisions on appointments and promotions to key posts.

Recruiting and Developing Competent Project Managers

5. A global survey of the project management sector by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) highlighted that there is an overwhelming correlation between successful project management and project professionals whose competence has been assessed through certification. The report, Insights and Trends: Current Programme and Project Management Practices, concluded that “Higher-performing projects are significantly more likely to be staffed with certified project managers. In fact, 80% of projects classified as high-performing use a certified project manager”.3 APM believes that by recruiting project and programme managers whose competence has been appropriately assessed, the civil service will reduce the risk of major projects overrunning, exceeding their budgets or failing altogether.

6. Historically, there has been no universally-accepted UK professional standard by which project managers could demonstrate that they had the necessary skills, training, experience and competence, together with a commitment to continued professional development and to a code of professional conduct.

7. As the lead professional body for project management in the UK, APM has addressed this issue comprehensively by creating APM’s 5 Dimensions of Professionalism, its framework for the assessment and development of professional project managers. The 5 Dimensions of the framework are: breadth of knowledge, depth of competence, achievement through qualification and experience, commitment to continuing professional development, and accountability to a code of professional conduct. APM considers that a project professional should satisfy appropriate criteria on all five dimensions. It is particularly important to note that knowledge on its own, though highly valuable, is not the same as competence, and that knowledge is just one of the five dimensions required to demonstrate full professionalism.

8. APM’s 5 Dimensions of Professionalism are encapsulated in the professional “gold standard” for assessing project management competence recently developed by APM, namely the APM Registered Project Professional. A number of government departments have committed to supporting key members of their project management communities in gaining this status which recognises the project professional’s ability to demonstrate the capabilities of a responsible leader with the right skills, experience, and behaviours to manage a complex project and use appropriate tools, processes and techniques.

9. APM has played a valuable role in providing a number of other solutions to enhancing project management professionalism within the civil service. The need for these solutions is highlighted by the Civil Service Reform Plan in which the Government admits that “civil servants have not been given the skills and tools needed for good project management”.4

10. For example, the government-wide Competence Assessment Tool (CAT) was developed from the APM Competence Framework, part of APM’s “depth” dimension. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is just one of the 18 government departments or agencies currently utilising the CAT. After it was found that over half of the assessed programme managers in the Department lacked the skills appropriate to their role, the Department used the CAT in its recruitment process for project management roles and was given recognition by the NAO for doing so.5 In the same report, the Department for Work and Pensions was praised for having “established the requirement for the relevant Head of Profession to approve any new appointments to posts involving a significant element of programme or project management”.6

11. Furthermore, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) recently endorsed a decision to adopt the APM Competence Assessment Tool to establish the level of ability of each member of the Programme and Project Management community across HMRC. Individuals will complete the CAT to indicate their knowledge and experience in relation to the 47 Competences identified by APM.

12. APM welcomes the valuable role in developing project professionals played by the creation and ongoing development of project management communities of practice within individual departments, of which HMRC and DWP are particularly striking examples.

The Importance of the “Intelligent Client”

13. The launch of the Major Projects Leadership Academy, in October 2012, is a clear message that the Government is committed to developing and retaining the skills of senior project leaders across the civil service. Part of this skill-set lies in high-order stakeholder management and reflects the focus by the Major Projects Leadership Academy on “mindset, not methodology”. This orientation addresses the assertion made in the Civil Service Reform Plan that “Much of this failure [in project delivery] has been because policy gets announced before implementation has been fully thought through”.7

14. The Academy’s focus on the leadership, rather than the management, of projects directly addresses the topic of the “intelligent client” which APM has promoted strongly in its campaign for enhancing professionalism in all aspects of project and programme management. An “intelligent client” is one that understands the role, dynamics, and needs of project management and creates the environment needed for it to operate successfully.

15. Furthermore, an “intelligent client” recognises that it is not just SROs and project managers that need the correct skills and competencies. Policy makers, finance, legal, operations and human resources teams, will all need to understand project management to be able to contribute effectively to the project or help set it up correctly.

16. During a recent Treasury Select Committee oral evidence session, Lord Deighton, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, set out the key factors for being an intelligent client.8 These included having a vision, clarity of objectives, and rigorous control of scope, budget and schedule. Lord Deighton also highlighted the importance of communication and getting buy-in to support the project. He stated:

“Being a good client is a critical part of delivering a successful project. What I do have a very clear perspective on is what I think are the ingredients for being a successful client.”9

17. APM firmly contends that an additional critical aspect of government’s ability to act as “intelligent client” is that it ensures through its actions a universal government-wide recognition that project management is a discrete profession, with its own set of competences, skills and behaviours.

The Importance of Continuity in Post

18. The Institute for Government recently reported that while there has been greater ministerial continuity than under the previous Government, only two permanent secretaries remain in the post they were in at the time of the election.10 The practical difficulties which this lack of continuity can sometimes create are mirrored in the role within the Civil Service of Senior Responsible Owners (SROs). Staying in post long enough to gain and apply experience is a crucial part of skills development in the Civil Service yet the turnover of SROs has been highlighted by the NAO and the PAC in their reports on some of the largest projects in recent years.

19. Research by the Office of Government Commerce in 2009 found that the average duration for SROs on major government projects was only 18 months, while the projects themselves lasted between three and ten years.11 A lack of continuity of SROs means that valuable experience is being lost as result of staff moving position frequently. It also makes it very difficult to hold any individual accountable, especially when SROs move at times unconnected with particular project milestones.

About Association for Project Management (APM)

Successful projects are integral to the development of the UK economically, socially and environmentally, especially in the current age of austerity.

In response to the critical role project management plays in UK society, Association for Project Management (APM) is committed to developing and promoting project, programme and portfolio management to achieve its vision of “a world in which all projects succeed”.

APM’s mission is to provide leadership to the movement of committed organisations and individuals who share its passion for improving project outcomes.

It defines the multi-faceted attributes of professional project management though APM’s Five Dimensions of Professionalism framework—

The Association is a registered charity with around 19,750 individual and approximately 500 corporate members making it the largest professional body of its kind in Europe.

January 2013

1 NAO, Identifying and Meeting Central Government’s Skills Requirements, July 2011, p8

2 Ibid. p14

3 PWC, Insights and Trends: Current Programme and Project Management Practices, 2007, p9

4 HM Government, The Civil Service Reform Plan, June 2012, p18

5 NAO, Identifying and Meeting Central Government’s Skills Requirements, July 2011, p31

6 Ibid.

7 HM Government, The Civil Service Reform Plan, June 2012, p18

8 Treasury Select Committee, Appointment of Paul Deighton as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (uncorrected evidence), 8 January 2013

9 Ibid.

10 Institute for Government, Transforming Whitehall, November 2012, p7

11 NAO, Identifying and Meeting Central Government’s Skills Requirements, July 2011, p31

Prepared 5th September 2013