How defence programmes can use P3M to drive success

David Jones

By David Jones

Defence programmes can increase their chances of success by addressing the project, programme and portfolio management (P3M) basics. While this sounds simple, we often see those basics being forgotten. This can be attributed to inertia in implementing P3M, a prevailing view that responsibility for it lies with others, who often lack knowledge in P3M, and/or a lack of recognition of it as a professional practice and an effective management control. It’s unsurprising, then, that the UK Government only rates 17 per cent of its major projects and programmes as likely to deliver on their objectives.

With recent changes to working patterns as a result of COVID-19 driving more remote and virtual practices, there is an even greater need for P3M controls. Documenting progress in lieu of social face-to-face interactions has become more important as organisations become reliant on P3M documentation suites being updated reflecting the latest information. This allows managers to go straight to the source of information themselves, rather than waiting for the previous weekly or monthly programme review meetings that occurred in pre-COVID times.

The good news is, implementing the basics of P3M will quickly improve projects and programmes by helping to bring them back on budget and schedule, and demonstrate greater value for money. The key is to consider the three Cs over the short-, medium-, and long-term: 



Controls - project, programme and portfolio level
Inadequate controls make information less visible, reduce communication and limit change management. So, it’s vital to develop and implement a P3M controls framework with templates and tools focused on four key controls:

  1. risk management
  2. performance management
  3. change control
  4. schedule and cost management.

This will immediately start to build coherence among teams, allowing for quicker, targeted interventions that accelerate projects and programmes towards successful outcomes. For example, we helped a defence organisation transition to a new organisational structure and improve their programme management capability upon reviewing their P3M processes and introducing controls. This helped the organisation achieve a 10% time saving in processing activities and a 15% efficiency improvement within the programme team. Establishing effective programme controls in the Ministry of Justice also allowed a complex technology programme to meet a key delivery target on schedule for the first time.

It’s important to remember that not all P3M processes need attention simultaneously. The approach of reviewing the four key controls is deliberate as P3M practices are based around a ‘toolbox’ of interventions. Not every programme requires all the tools all at once, and no two programmes will need the same tools either. Large, complex and critical programmes, such as the UK Ventilator Challenge, will need greater attention and deployment of P3M controls than a smaller, narrow scoped project. It is our experience in implementing and deploying P3M controls that enabled the coherence and co-ordination of 40 million ventilator parts from 21 countries within a three-week period. Using the four key controls will therefore give a sound footing in baselining the visibility, health and direction of any programme, at any stage of maturity.

Competencies - professional and technical knowledge
In the same way your programmes will all be different, your people will have different levels of experience, knowledge and competence. To build the credibility of P3M within defence, it’s important to upskill your managers to the point where they can achieve industry recognised P3M qualifications, such as Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®), Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE2®) and Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) status.

Maturity assessments and competency matrices, such as those developed by the Association of Project Management, can assess a manager’s strengths, highlight knowledge gaps and point out areas for improvement. That will help you target training at the competencies that will have the largest immediate impact, such as benefits management, forecast management, stakeholder management, governance, reporting, planning and communications.

Once you’ve filled immediate gaps, you can consider introducing additional competencies to complement professional and technical knowledge.

Checks - assurance of best practice adoption
With key controls in place and P3M leaders upskilling, you need to consider how to check the trajectory of programmes. Assurance reviews, together with check-in sessions and formal audits on management processes, can reveal if people are adopting and maintaining P3M best practices. Such checks also provide an independent and objective view of programme delivery with the goal of:

  1. providing confidence to senior stakeholders that the right decisions are being made
  2. determining if programme outputs are aligned to objectives and if they are on time, to quality and to budget
  3. identifying potential risks not considered by the programme team
  4. highlighting any deviations from plan and triggering early warnings to allow managers to quickly intervene and resolve.

Whilst assurance checks should form a regular drumbeat alongside other reporting mechanisms, their focus will evolve as a programme journeys this its lifecycle. Checks conducted in the early phase of a programme will concentrate on whether high impact, high value decisions are being made correctly. In the latter phases, assurance checks may focus more on programme execution, change management and quality of outputs.

The underlying purpose though remains the same in continually assuring the planned delivery and aiding the acceleration of programme delivery.

Defence programmes can make better use of P3M to drive success
Defence programmes require a back-to-basics approach to P3M. That means concentrating on controls, competencies and checks – instigating the right controls at the right time, assessing and enhancing the competencies of programme leaders, and checking people follow best practice. By focusing defence’s P3M efforts on these areas, leaders can ensure programmes remain on track for success.

About the authors

David Jones
David Jones Defence and security expert David is a P3M specialist with experience in programme controls, management and transformation within the public and private sectors. His ability to relate with clients’ challenges, combined with knowledge in P3M, is a key and invaluable strength enabling him to lead delivery of the most complex programmes.

Explore more

Contact the team

We look forward to hearing from you.

Get actionable insight straight to your inbox via our monthly newsletter.