Setting up projects for success: Insights into project initiation in Defence

Paul Adamson Sean McDaniel

By Paul Adamson, Sean McDaniel, Chris Cole

Collaborating with MOD and the IPA to embed learning across government

From start to finish, producing the Project Initiation: Lessons Learned Report was a collaborative effort between a blended team from PA, MOD and the IPA. This culminated in joint launch event on Monday 14 June, in which a panel of senior leaders from each organisation discussed both the insights within the report and their own experiences initiating projects across Defence and the broader public sector.

The panel also participated in a thought-provoking Q&A session with an audience of over 150 project leaders from across government, who not only engaged with the material in the report but also recognised the importance of events like this, which enable project leaders and professionals to share their experiences and challenges with like-minded peers. By helping facilitate this launch event and ensuring that knowledge and lessons are shared across Defence and other government departments, we are supporting the UK Government in creating a world class project delivery profession which is capable of delivering some of the world’s most complex projects.

Delivering complex and innovative projects

Project delivery is a complex and transformational activity for any organisation, and with the UK Government delivering some of the most challenging and innovative projects in the world this can be amplified. The Integrated Review 2021 describes the vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade. This emphasises openness as a source of prosperity, a more robust position on security and resilience, a renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world, and an increased determination to seek multilateral solutions to challenges like climate change.

Projects deliver the strategic choices that underpin UK Government priorities, such as developing high-tech capabilities in the newer domains of cyberspace and space, as well as the traditional domains of land, sea and air. This includes building the next generation of naval vessels and delivering plans for eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates and developing the Future Combat Air System.

Building trust is crucial in successful initiation

The scale of Defence creates complexity. Taking initiation decisions in large and dynamic environments requires confident leadership and access to a range of skillsets, sometimes over many years. The way projects establish themselves should translate to delivery of long-term value and a lasting impact in the minds of the people involved. Consequently, it is essential to invest time and thinking power at the earliest point.

From the insights gathered from 12 Senior Responsible Owners and Project Directors, we identified building trust as the key success factor in initiation. By establishing trust between different parties, whether that is within project teams, between projects and their sponsors, or between projects and wider stakeholders and delivery partners, it is easier to deliver.

The report highlights five key areas in which building trust is key to successful project initiation:

• Leading with confidence
• Seeing the big picture
• Delivering through people
• Planning flexibly
• Making good investment decisions

The jointly published Project Initiation: Lessons Learned Report is available to download here.

About the authors

Paul Adamson
Paul Adamson PA implementation expert
Sean McDaniel
Sean McDaniel PA defence and security expert
Chris Cole PA defence and security expert

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