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Using a Project Management Office to deliver a multi-agency change on a tight deadline

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Our client was a UK government department seeking to deliver a complex programme.

Deadline was looming on a complex change

A UK government department was managing a complex change programme involving 15 government organisations. The department chaired a change delivery board, which included representatives from the organisations.

With just three months remaining until a hard delivery deadline, the department commissioned us to support the change programme. We were asked to establish a Project Management Office (PMO) to monitor each organisation’s preparations for the change and to maintain a complete picture of risks.

Due to COVID-19, all project management activities had to be conducted remotely, primarily through videoconference meetings.

PMO overseeing eight workstreams aligned efforts across agencies

Given the tight timeline and the many stakeholders, it was essential to break the task down into manageable parts. We worked with the department to identify eight distinct workstreams.

Each workstream was allocated a lead department or agency, whose contact we met with weekly to evaluate the completed work, upcoming planned work and any issues that required the change delivery board’s attention.

We combined this information with our broader understanding of the goals and progress to create whole-of-programme insights for the board. We updated the board weekly with a PMO report and meeting.

The PMO gave the department a strong foundation to push the change forward. Benefits to the board included:

  • Rigorous, evidence-based status updates. Our weekly reports required each workstream team to submit clear upcoming actions with due dates and give prompt updates when those actions were completed or delayed. This clarity allowed the board to identify when workstreams required extra attention.
  • Alignment across multiple stakeholders. Our PMO approach identified when organisations held different assumptions on a workstream’s purpose. This ensured the board could work toward a shared set of outcomes and could communicate effectively about risks and actions.
  • Identifying risks and intervening early. Our PMO reports ensured that when any item was at risk of failing to be realised, this was escalated immediately to the department and discussed at the next meeting of the board.
  • Clear communication for board members, government officials and ministers. Initially board members, departmental officials and government ministers lacked a shared understanding of the major issues facing the sector. This created significant risk of resources being misallocated as officials could not effectively raise with ministers the issues that required their attention. Our regular reporting and consistent RAG rating (red, amber, green) supported the board to raise relevant issues with ministers to ensure their energy was allocated where it was needed most.

The board met its deadline, minimising government risk

We supported the board to complete its change mission ahead of the deadline. Seven of the eight workstreams were completed before the deadline and the remaining one was prevented from completion due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The deadline had potential to cause significant disruption, but thanks to the workstreams all stakeholder organisations were prepared for the change when it arrived.

What you can learn from this project

A rigorous PMO approach by an independent consultancy ensures subject-matter experts can focus on solving complex problems.

Weekly reporting cycles with comprehensive updates help to build momentum for an approaching deadline.

An outside agent can identify unspoken assumptions that might hinder clear communication between sector agencies.