2008 Study of lessons learned in the Northern Ireland public sector

A detailed study of lessons learned in the NI Public Sector was completed during September 2008. This work was jointly sponsored by the Centre of Expertise for Programme and Project Management and the DFP Oversight Board for Civil Service Reform.

2008 study of lessons learned - introduction

The key strategic management lessons from the analysis have been grouped into four broad areas:

  1. Clarity
  2. Management
  3. People
  4. Involvement

Each area's lessons are set out in individual tables below. The key lessons were then cross-referenced to the various lifecycle points in the gateway review process to produce a senior management checklist. Given that many programmes and projects are subject to gateway reviews, this was seen as a sensible, pragmatic route to follow for the checklist.

The draft checklist images show the lessons that have emerged from actual programmes and projects in Northern Ireland and are a top level management view.

As a key:

  • red is high or critical impact
  • amber is very important
  • green is important

The gateway lifecycle points are:

  • Gate 0 - Strategic assessment (programmes)
  • Gate 1 - Business justification
  • Gate 2 - Delivery strategy
  • Gate 3 - Investment decision
  • Gate 4 - Readiness for service
  • Gate 5 - Operations review and benefits realisation

1. Clarity 
What are we doing and why?

This area covered topics such as:

  • objectives, purpose and aims
  • investment and anticipated returns
  • business cases and affordability
  • benefits sought and realised
  • public impact assessment
  • ownership, leadership and ministerial direction
  • fit to strategy, other programmes and projects
  • measures of success

Lessons learned in the area of clarity are set out below.

Strategic lessons - clarity
Summary lessons Detailed lessons
Be clear what you are aiming at
  • be clear on the programme or project objective
  • strategic fit with the vision or other initiatives
  • remove any ambiguity in the business case
Get certainty around funding
  • phased budgets
  • who is contributing what and when?
  • financial sign-off and authorisation process
Specify the target benefits up front
  • quantitative or qualitative?
  • measures or process
  • baselines
Ensure strong, visible leadership
  • Champion, SRO and other key roles
  • who needs to have ownership?
Set a longer term vision
  • to provide a framework to work within
  • to help a corporate approach of associated initiatives
Take a broader view
  • look where integration needs to happen
  • ensure interdependencies are highlighted
  • avoid priority clashes

Strategic Lessons from 2008 NICS study into programmes and projects, Clarity
Strategic Lessons - Clarity

2. Management 
How will we manage it (or are we managing it?)

This area covered topics such as:

  • governance
  • risk, issue and contingency management
  • programme or project planning approaches
  • monitoring, reporting and control - including quality assurance, audit, gateway review
  • implementation and procurement processes
  • change management and contract management

Lessons learned in the area of management are set out below.

Strategic lessons - management
Summary lessons Detailed lessons
Get the governance balance right
  • independent members
  • decision making vs consultation and involvement
  • size to avoid bureaucracy
Inject rigour and robustness
  • use of accepted disciplines, for example in business cases, PRINCE2, gateway or risk management
  • departmental freedoms vs consistency
Ensure commercial and contractual acumen
  • more partners being used and need to be managed effectively
  • longer term arrangements being put in place
Develop early change management strategies
  • put change and behaviour management strategies in place as early as possible
  • be realistic about the challenges of the required change, in addition to the benefits
Where possible, take an integrated approach to planning
  • get forward views on procurement, funding, training, phased delivery
  • get messages across to staff, the public and Trade Union Side in a co-ordinated way
  • joint and corporate risk management

Strategic Lessons from 2008 NICS study into programmes and projects, Management
Strategic Lessons - Management

3. People 
The skills, knowledge and experience we need.

This area covered topics such as:

  • key roles, for example the senior responsible owner, programme and project managers, programme or project management offices
  • skill development and equality
  • specialist requirements, for example legal, procurement, contractual or information technology
  • partners and consultancy support
  • induction, education or awareness
  • intelligent client roles and the role of critical friend

Lessons learned in the area of people are set out below.

Strategic lessons - people
Summary lessons Detailed lessons

Use SROs from across the organisation for cross-cutting projects


  • can also help with independence
Be honest about the amount of resource required
  • mix of full time and part time roles
Always include people from operations and business as usual
  • they know the business
  • to get required ownership
Get scarce skills in place for managing the growing number of partner relationships
  • greater demand for procurement, contractual, legal, negotiating skills
Use your experienced resource to help others
  • experienced SROs, programme and project managers to get consistency of approach
Collect lessons throughout the lifecycle
  • don't let expertise walk
  • ensure people know where the expertise is including local, organisational, departmental, NICS and wider public sector contexts

Strategic Lessons from 2008 NICS study into programmes and projects, People
Strategic Lessons - People


4. Involvement 
Making sure we keep people involved and up to date.

This area covered topics such as:

  • stakeholder management and engagement
  • communication, both external and internal
  • consultation - with trade union side and with public and government bodies
  • ministerial engagement
  • use of shared services

Lessons learned in the area of Involvement are set out below.

Strategic lessons - involvement
Summary lessons Detailed lessons
Get key stakeholders involved early
  • helps buy-in and gives additional expertise and knowledge
  • can manage expectations better
Ensure you take a customer perspective
  • internal and external customers will see things differently
  • allows identification of potential obstacles
Prepare relationship management plans for commercial partners
  • sets expectations
  • develop contingency strategies in advance
Work with the rest of the organisation
  • let others know the plans in order to have a more corporate approach
  • helps avoid priority clashes

Strategic Lessons from 2008 NICS study into programmes and projects, Involvement
Strategic Lessons - Involvement


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