How government can improve the chances of success with large programmes and projects: report

The Federal Government’s Home Insulation Program, which was the subject of a Royal Commission in 2014, has also led to an examination of how such mistakes in the management of large government policy initiatives can be avoided in the future.

Professor Peter Shergold AC was invited to lead an independent review of Government processes for the development and implementation of large public programmes and projects, and the resulting report was released earlier this month.

Titled ‘Learning from Failure: Why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved’, the report contains a number of conclusions about important factors for better programme management.

These conclusion centred around key areas including:

  • encouraging the public service to provide robust advice to Ministers;
  • creating a positive risk culture, focused on proactive, performance-focused risk engagement;
  • enhancing program management by increasing core skills and maintaining clear accountability and leadership;
  • opening up the APS to create more diversity of experience in its ranks, and facilitate mobility between the private and public sectors; and
  • embracing adaptive government, to become more flexible, experimental, facilitative and agile. This includes moving away from large-scale roll-outs as a first step and instead embracing trial or proof-of-concept models and staged decision-making.Shergold did not, however, make recommendations to government, preferring that “the review be made widely available for public comment and discussion. I hope, in particular, that the views of the Australian Public Service on its proposals will help to inform the Government’s response”.

The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) welcomed the review’s release, supporting its efforts to improve the management of major projects.

“Professor Shergold has delivered a number of conclusions which help highlight some important issues in the delivery of major programs and projects in Australia today. His conclusions on accountability, recognition of project management as a profession, the creation of ‘tiger teams’ and a focus on competencies particularly resonated with us during our involvement in the peer review process,” said Yvonne Butler, chief executive officer, AIPM.

“The review is a major landmark in the efforts being made to recognise the importance of properly run projects in Australia, and the need for certified project managers behind them. The amount of money spent on poorly run projects each year is staggering, and we look forward to working with the Australian Public Service Commission and major government agencies on the implementation of some of the conclusions.”

The report can be accessed on the Australian Public Service Commission website at