Delivering capital programmes is core for councils. Getting it right can be transformative for communities: making places vibrant, setting a tone for development quality, and helping stabilise public finances in an area. But it is not easy and getting it wrong can be costly and damage credibility.
The composition of capital project programmes typically ranges from high volume maintenance of housing and transport, through to new schools and large strategic priorities, such as town halls and leisure centres. We are pleased to see climate and energy projects becoming increasingly fundamental as well. The skills and capabilities to deliver such a programme therefore varies significantly across the project types, as does the procurement and contract selection.
Slippage is a significant challenge. On setting a capital programme for the year, a council is committing funding (sometimes borrowed), setting expectation and deploying resources. Many capital programmes repeatedly do not meet their spending obligations, and this is often communicated too late in the year for the council to take remedial action and reprioritise.
Other complications on capital programme delivery include: the split of revenue and capital finance; projects that are overtime and over budget; and projects that don’t progress, without any obvious reason.
So how can a council prepare for and deliver capital programmes, at pace with a high level of consistency and impact?
Drawing on our extensive experience, and that of successful councils, we’ve set out a 'lucky 13' key point guide (we know you make your own luck):
Stage 1 – Immersive understanding of the programme
Successful programme delivery is built from a sound knowledge of the basics. With good understanding, sound planning and decision making can follow.
1. What are you delivering? Capture in a single document / system the overall programme of the projects being delivered by type, value, location, duration and project stage.
2. Understand the origins and objectives of each project. How and why did each project originate? What available evidence underpins it? And who are the key project sponsors?
3. Understand the money. How are the projects being funded? What conditions are attached? And what is the revenue / capital split?
4. Set a balanced portfolio. Before you ‘do things right’, you need to make sure you are ‘doing the right things’. That means picking the optimal range of projects in light of your priorities, time, local spread of need, and appetite for risk and reward.
Stage 2 – Designing the response
Using the knowledge and information generated in Stage 1, it is now possible to design the optimum response.
5. Set the organisational velocity. Progress at pace requires a particular set of behaviours: proactive management, decisive action, trust, reliability and accountability.
6. Build a tenacious team. Like almost everything else, success will be predominantly determined by the team delivering the project and how it is led (see Inner Circle’s piece on leadership).
7. Embedding systems and procedures. They should be appropriate to the projects and the team running them.
8. Creating governance. Decision-making is vital for project quality and pace; hence appropriately weighty governance should unblock barriers to progress and keep the key stakeholders on board.
9. Picking the right procurement. Successfully procured projects with right-minded delivery partners are far easier to manage through to completion.
Stage 3 – Maintaining control
10. Be collaborative. Bringing all the key stakeholders on board and keeping them there is critical to the success of any project.
11. Regular and reliable reporting backed up by decisive management action. Project management isn’t about reporting the lack of progress; reporting should be used as an essential project management tool for successful delivery. A moment to understand every element of the project and take decisive management action where appropriate.
12. Managing the contracts. Contracts for capital works have been developed over decades, with lessons learnt and embedded through every iteration. Not enough emphasis is placed on the impact of effective, rigorous and sophisticated contract administration on successful delivery.
Stage 4 – Elegant completions
13. Plan for completion. Project completion requires carefully synchronised and interdependent sequencing of activities beyond that of normal project delivery and should be planned for accordingly. Key parties include the constructor, designers, project manager and the ultimate end user and could include communications, finance and legal. This is where the project manager comes into their own.
It’s never too late to change the pace of delivery
We know from experience that with the right conditions and leadership support, delivery can be accelerated at any stage of a programme or project, but it cannot be half-hearted. Therefore, if deadlines are looming and the need for progress is unquestionable; decisive action can still be taken to achieve those goals.
About Inner Circle Consulting (ICC)
We delivery progress in the most challenging of conditions. As an organisation we work at pace, with senior leaders within ever-changing client organisations and therefore we know how to get things done. We have an extensive track record of delivering award winning projects across the country.
Our team at ICC are politically astute, understanding the complexity of local government. We pride and differentiate ourselves on the quality of our staff: our ability to understand each place’s unique problems, to intelligently challenge, and to act flexibly, creatively and with integrity. We all have an intolerance for inertia and a desire to help our clients progress rapidly toward their goals. Ultimately, we are renown for delivering progress.
For further information, contact:
Director and Co-Founder
T: 07775 510641