For consultants and project managers venturing into state owned clients for the first time, this article provides some words of advice to help smooth the conversion. Take these into account during the planning stage of the project and you should have fewer surprises.

  • Political priorities change like the wind

Public bodies aren't run by politicians. The policies, priorities and budgets that drive them, however, are absolutely dictated by the control of the day. This can make for uncertain project environments. Are we heading into an election year? Are government ministers pushing for strategic transformation or are they looking for quick wins to boost their image? What campaign promises were made?

Questions like these have a real impact on internal decision making. The focus of internal leadership teams is forced to change with that of the government, and the consequential lack of commitment can erode any sense of accountability and ownership for project benefits. Technology projects may simply be reprioritized or dropped, no matter how important or successful they might have been.

Secure control support as early as possible and try to ensure that funding for the entire project is safe and sound down from the outset. Push for regular access to your senior stakeholders so they can't lose sight of the project benefits. And if the project is ditched for political reasons, don't take it personally!

  • Don't underestimate the pain of public procurement

Public procurement processes are crucial for driving transparency, fairness and value in how taxpayer money is spent. Important as those processes are, they slow projects down. They can be incredibly onerous, not just for project teams preparing tender documents, evaluating responses and attendance software demos, but for technology even It's vital to understand the relevant national and EU public procurement rules, and to factor these into your project plan from the outset. You may need to prepare for a lengthy selection and contract negotiation process, even if you had an ideal technology supplier in mind from the outset.

Following the right process may well add months to your timeline, but failing to do so can land you and your client in seriously hot water.

  • Prepare to be culture-shocked

Government organizations are not businesses. The terms turnover and profit don't apply. They don’t have customers or clients in the traditional sense. Leadership teams don't have the same mandate to decide organizational strategy and direction as their private area counterparts. Members of the public and media have a right and a tendency to seek access to information and to challenge spending, no matter how unsettling that may be. Fundamentally, these are different beasts with different cultural dynamics.

It all comes back to planning. Allow time for chasing stakeholders, for composing memos to formalize decisions, and for getting physical signatures on paper. Plan for delays, include contingency and keep a stress ball at hand

Conclusion

The wheels of government turn slowly. You need all the usual project disciplines and a heavily built dose of patience and perseverance. Public bodies can be politically charged, with very poles apart drivers, influences, and obstacles to the private sector.

To achieve project success you need to build more time into your project plan than you would elsewhere. It's almost guaranteed to take longer than you'd expect to soar through the public funding and governance hoops, and to get the decisions you need. And just keep your fingers crossed that political priority and know how trends don't change in the meantime!