Change Management in the Australian Public Sector

Program and Project Management: Change Management in the Australian Public Sector

By Murray Gough, MD BPPM, CPPD, MAIPM and Bruce Glendinning, GM Tempo Strategies, MAIPM

The implementation of major government programs and projects places project management under strain in the public sector. Internationally, economic conditions have led to massive cuts in all types of government-sponsored projects – from large construction to information technology to human services. In response, Australian governments are funding projects to stimulate growth in the economy.  

The disparity created by poor economic conditions and increased government funding is putting pressure on program and project management to deliver value quickly within the public sector. Therefore, the onus is now on public servants to respond to these initiatives and adopt a professional approach to wide-ranging programs of projects.

Public sector project management practice is fraught with unique challenges, including:

  • Complex Bureaucratic environment. Many government agencies operate under extensive legal, regulatory, and policy constraints. These rules tend to constrain the achievement of results  and can produce risk and change averse cultures. . Bureaucratic environments in Australia need to hasten the speed of change and adoption of new skills in program and project management.
  • Incremental vs dynamic thinking. Because many government entities operate in a steady state for years at a time, there is little incentive to consider any change but the most incremental of improvements. Incremental thinking is likely to decrease the depth of change required by the urgency of a project context. However, with new initiatives and massive budgetary injections,  public sector projects require clear strategies focussed on impacts.
  • Projects increasingly operate across boundaries. Projects that depend upon cross-agency collaboration are on the rise, and often require advanced, unique communication networks and skills. This type of environment increases both the speed and depth of change required.

Program and project management offers a way to address these challenges by acting as a lever of change. Projects can cut through the morass of politics and shortsightedness by delivering on clear objectives and bringing change through multiple channels:

  • A proving ground for new strategies. When governments innovate or take a new path in solving a problem, project management enables an efficient, concise and well-defined environment for change.
  • Beyond the incremental. Highly bureaucratic institutions usually change slowly and incrementally. Projects offer a way to make quantum leaps with dynamic thinking to enable understanding and approaches to problem solving.
  • Better stakeholder management. Cross-boundary projects require innovative ways to address stakeholder needs. A project environment enables systematic stakeholder management in unique, purpose-driven networks.

These powerful tools are commonplace in modern program and project management, yet they can be lost in the throng of normal, bureaucratic activity. To be effective, these levers of change need to be deployed aggressively and managed proactively.

To do so, program and project managers need to do two things:

  • be professionally competent (qualified or certified), and
  • sell the value of project management within their organizations.

So what can a public sector project manager do to increase the perceived value of their project? Here are three activities that will help yield value for projects.



Ensure a sense of urgency exists

Sufficient urgency is needed to overcome the (potential) bureaucratic inertia that exists across many government entities. Develop urgency through deadlines and problem statements with agreed key activities and actions.

Create value statements

Provide up to date status reports to create value statements that describe the value and benefits being realized by the project from various stakeholders’ perspective.

Measure the value

Measure project value by using both quantitative and qualitative measures such as achievement of KPIs and customer satisfaction feedback.

Sound Program and Project management provides an effective framework for change that can have a transformative effect across the public sector. But it takes strong leadership, common customised methodologies/toolsets, competence in PM and an environment conducive to project success to really move forward. As the world emerges from the economic perils of 2009, we must all work to ensure that project management is delivering results and value through effective change management.