Everyone seems to recognise that the London 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority have done a fantastic job. Even the press is struggling to find things to criticise. This success is even more outstanding given the historic performance of public projects in the past. Failures in the past include Olympic projects in other countries and public projects in the UK such as the Jubilee Line, Millennium Dome to mention just two. The whole project acts as a real demonstration of ability of the UK construction industry to perform. UK PLC should be proud of this achievement. It should act a flag ship to demonstrate the professionalism of UK based project management around the world. The involvement of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the post project lessons learned reviews is a very positive initiative. This should generate plenty of true best practice guidance that can be integrated into future versions of the Body of Knowledge. However it is already clear that the formation of a dedicated Olympic Delivery Authority had a huge impact on the success of the project.
Can these approaches and structures be replicated across different sectors and industries? The political classes seem to be convinced, Ken Livingston’s speech to the PMI Synergy event at the O2 in London in September 2011, implied that the 2012 project was successful because of the formation of the ODA. Resources by the best project management people from around the world and had an arm’s length relationship with civil servants. We await the formal lessons learned review to see if these conclusions are confirmed.
What is a Delivery Authority?
There are many forms of delivery authorities; however they are generally temporary, standalone organisations establish specifically to deliver a major public project or programme. Typically they are formed of private sector consortium reporting to public authorities via a clear governance structure. The consortium usually combines organisations with a combination for the skills required to deliver projects. For example a project and programme management organisation might combine forces with a construction company. As a commercial animal they form a fire break between the political classes and the contractors delivering the project.
What advantages to they bring to Public Projects?
The advantages of delivery authorities over publicly managed projects are:
- They are staffed by project professionals not career civil servants. Often these individuals have a life time of experience delivering complex projects around the world.
- They have a dedicated focus on the successful completion of the project, without the distraction of possible changes in policy or political interference.
- They tend the hire (and fire) the best people for the duration of the project and because the organisation in temporary, just for the purposes of the project, these people tend to gain experience by moving from project to project.
Their independence from the political classes gives them the ability to act in a commercially effective way, whereas it is more difficult for a career civil servant to defend a project from political pressures to change the scope or reduce the budget.
Can they be applied in other sectors?
With the UK government committed to a wide range of capital infrastructure project, such as HS2, are delivery authorities the solution to the difficulties of completing these projects to time, cost and quality? Furthermore do they represent a better way to manage a wide range of government projects from defence procurement to investments in the transport infrastructure? The government seem convinced, with tenders already being placed for development partners for HS2 and Network Rail being restructured to introduce competition, even the defence procurement agency seems to be heading this way. However these projects are very different from the Olympics, they are highly integrated with existing and complex operations. It is more difficult to draw boundaries around the project because the influence day to day operation in the organisations they serve. Redeveloping a main line station while it is in operation, or upgrading an operational tank is a high complex endeavour with many stakeholders to satisfy. The question to ask is if these projects will benefit from the independence and focus of a delivery authority, or if the complexity means that they are better managed by public servants; who put the priorities of the traveling public or the soldier before that of the project.
What are the risks?
The risk is that many of these capital project are being prioritised as a way stimulate economic growth, hence the benefits may not be challenged in the way they should be and the mantra of the private sector is best may win out. However for many of these projects the complexity lies not in the solution but the stakeholder environment in which they are delivered and the constraints this imposes. Efficiency and profit may be less important than delivering these stakeholder needs. In these stakeholder driven environments then public organisation may be the best way to deliver projects which meet all the needs of different stakeholders. It will be interesting to see how these trends play out over the next few years.