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In Conversation with Noeleen McHugh (LGMA) – Project Management Network

Noeleen McHugh, Assistant Chief Executive, Local Government Programme Management & Innovation, at the Local Government Management Agency

  1. Can you tell us more about your role and your experience in the public sector?

I am Assistant Chief Executive in the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) with responsibility for the Programme Management Office, Innovation, Reform, ICT, HR, Corporate & Finance.  I have worked in the local government sector for over 40 years including an extensive period in Fingal County Council.  I’ve been with the LGMA for 5 years and am 3 years in my current role.

  1. In your opinion, what is the most important thing that a project manager does?

Difficult to narrow it down to one most important thing.  Most important roles are planning, communication, stakeholder engagement and management, and managing the project from a budget, time and scope perspective to keep it on track.

  1. How do you work to ensure success on a project?

Appointing a good Project Manager with a strong Project Sponsor and knowledgeable Project Board lays a good foundation for project success.  The Project Manager needs to build strong working relationships with key stakeholders, have clarity about the objectives of the project and sign off on the expected deliverables and outcomes for the project.  This all needs to be underpinned by a good communication plan.

  1. As public servants, we operate in an evolving environment, which can often lead to changing requirements for a project. How can project managers in the public service reduce scope creep?

This comes under the project manager’s mantra – “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail”.  Investment in pre-project planning and a robust, peer reviewed Business Plan should ensure that the project defines what’s in and out of scope and therefore should not incur unnecessary project creep.  Having said that, you can’t always plan for the unexpected and when it occurs it’s important that a clear change management process is in place to fully consider the additional works, ensure the budget is available and the impact of the change is not going to cause extensive delays to the project.

  1. What project did you work on that you are most proud of, and why?

I’ve worked on lots of projects including construction, change management and ICT projects.  They’ve all been interesting and I’ve learned a lot from them all but currently, the local government sector has just gone into a live pilot of a new online planning portal so that citizens and agents can make planning applications online.  The project was very complex involving the integration of a number of IT systems and had a wide and varied number of stakeholders, but with the great Project Sponsor, Project Board and Project Team we’ve delivered the project and when the pilot is complete, hopefully we’ll roll it out to the rest of the local government sector.

  1. What are the three skills a project manager in the public service should have?
  • Project Planning
  • Stakeholder Engagement & Management
  • Communications
  1. What is the future of PPPM in the Irish public service?

P3M refers to project, programme and portfolio management and involves the application of methods, procedures, techniques and competence to achieve a set of defined objectives. The Irish public service is at various levels of PM maturity but all are actively improving their project management skills supported by the PM Network and the OPS 2020 Action 10 Team.

Project management skills are now a requirement for some entry level posts in the civil and wider public service and we need to ensure that project management skills are considered a core competency if we want to use P3M to deliver on all projects going forward.  There’s no doubt that good PM skills will improve the delivery of projects on time, budget and within scope and therefore be more cost effective.

  1. Do you have any advice for public bodies who are starting off in their journey to set up a PMO?

My top tip would be to talk to other public bodies for advice and guidance.  The development of PMOs is ongoing across the Irish public service and there’s lots of support and mentoring that can be utilised to help a public body that is just starting on their journey.  It’s so important that the type of PMO to be established meets the ambition of the organisation and also has an awareness of the organisational culture that will prevail.  I never forget the saying attributed to the well-known management consultant, Philip Drucker “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.