This opinion piece was written by Lukas Savickas, an adviser to the prime minister of Lithuania.
Since the pioneering work of Henry Gantt a century ago, project management has become a well-established way of ensuring work is delivered on time and within budget. Public sector organisations and government ministries have just as much need for timely and economical project completion. But it is relatively uncommon, especially in central and eastern Europe, for the government sector to employ project management practices.
This is partly due to the associated costs — but the investment is worth it when the success of large, costly projects is at stake. There are also challenges unique to the public sector. The political cycle is shorter than the typical strategic planning cycle, and traditions of reactive politics are also an obstacle to project management practices.
But it’s often overlooked that there are also unique ways the public sector can benefit from project management. In particular, project management significantly contributes to increasing accountability and transparency, of high importance in modern democracies.
For a great number of years, Lithuanian governments have faced difficulties in coordinating and ensuring full implementation of national policy reforms. The existing strategic planning systemin Lithuania is providing a base for the control of government action plan execution, but the number of jobs delivered later than planned, or with poor quality, has been increasingly high.
It’s often overlooked that there are unique ways the public sector can benefit from project management
Companies, NGOs and many organisations around the world have been using project management practices to ensure timely and high quality outputs for years – exactly what Lithuania’s public sector seemed to be lacking. In 2017, we decided to start implementing project management practices to help execute key national reforms across the entire public sector.
To start and implement the new project, “National Priority Implementation through the use of Change Management Practices”, the government has established a Project Management Office, with a team of project management professionals, which is already applying uniform project management standards across public sector institutions. The office is also accumulating experience and know-how that can later be passed on to other parts of the government.
The Prime Minister has formulated a portfolio of 44 priority strategic projects, where projects are given specific owners and managers, rather than the previous practice of just appointing institutions. To monitor these projects, the newly established Strategic Projects Portfolio Committee – headed by the Prime Minister himself – meets each month to supervise strategic projects’ schedule and budget a manage their associated risks.
The project management scheme aims to give the right tools to properly manage major project, not only to the Chancellery, which runs the scheme, but also to the other 14 ministries.
It marks a vast improvement on past practices, when identical processes were organised in an ad-hoc manner
The new project management office provides consistent guidance, methods, systems, tools and metrics for the whole public sector. It provides seminars for ministries, drawing on best practices and methodologies from the world-renowned Project Management Institute. This allows us to ensure consistency between project managers, not only within the government but also with external organisations, such as large state-owned enterprises.
Thanks to this restructuring, the government is aware of the timeline and budgetary status of its key political priorities at all times. It marks a vast improvement on past practices, when identical processes were organised in an ad-hoc manner.
Although this project has only recently started implementation, there are already great examples of its benefits. For example, the project has recently created a platform for the government to manage the full implementation of its six structural reforms. This will help ensure the sustainability of the results achieved by the implemented reforms.
Our initiative has been beneficial not only to the government itself, by ensuring high standards and accountability, but also to Lithuanian citizens. Its innovation lies in employing results-based management techniques to maximise the economic and social benefits of each project.
The newly implemented change management process will help implement accountability and transparency principles, in line with Lithuania’s international commitments to the Open Government Partnership. And it allows the government to develop its institutional memory and pass on accumulated know-how to future governments. Rigorous project management is creating the base for better, evidence-based decision making in the future. — Lukas Savickas
(Picture credit: Lukas Savickas)