London Olympics 2012 - P3M on the podium...

17th September 2012

I had planned a piece on the value of project management and programme management education and training this week, but events at Stratford inspired me rather late in the day to produce a piece on an altogether different theme….the Olympics….. 

In his foreword on the 2012 Learning Legacy website, Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) put the success of the 2012 Olympics - and what a great success it was too - down to the hard work and dedication of the team. But one of the key lessons to learn is the need to apply rigorous programme management and project management discipline in bringing about successful beneficial change. So, whilst celebrating success, we should not forget the contribution of P3M principles, process and practices in enabling the team to realise that success. Building on previous articles, here are some further thoughts on P3M in the context of the 2012 Programme.


In January 2011, nine months after coming to power, the coalition government took a decision to build on the work of the previous Labour administration in bolstering effort around the reporting on the 40 or so projects and programmes that then represented the most significant public sector investments and manifesto promises. The original Major Projects Portfolio (MPP) was revised and extended and creatively badged the Government MPP (GMPP). This now comprises over 200 projects and programmes from all government departments and simply put, anything that requires Treasury approval is a candidate for the Portfolio.  The 2012 Olympics was not surprisingly part of the GMPP, and as such was the subject of regular quarterly reporting to the responsible Minister, HM Treasury and ultimately No.10 - a process facilitated by the Cabinet Office. It won't surprise you to know that the intention going forward is to add further to the rigour that the Government major projects portfolio has brought through the work of the Efficiency Reform Group (ERG, part of the Cabinet Office) and this is beginning to hit home at Departments in terms of how they manage their own investment in change. The Ministry of Defence, for example, is currently implementing portfolio management principles, structures and roles as part of Defence Reform and around 70 of its projects and programmes are reported on as part of the Government major projects portfolio. It's early days for the Government major projects portfolio (the processes are effectively 18 months old) and some would argue that rather than portfolio management, it simply amounts to portfolio reporting. That may be so, but my personal opinion is that as part of the major projects portfolio / Government major projects portfolio, the Olympics benefitted from the rigour of a portfolio approach in establishing and maintaining focus on benefits delivery and accountability. I think we can expect similar rigour around future political decisions as a consequence of the Government major projects portfolio and portfolio management principles.


From the very outset, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) recognised the need for a programme approach and, having been appointed, its delivery partner CLM (formed from CH2MHill, Laing O'Rourke and Mace) set about creating a programme environment that would deliver 2012 in the seven years from IOC decision to opening ceremony. The approach that CLM adopted was unashamedly predicated on Managing Successful Programmes (MSP). It involved the integration of 70 individual projects with £7.5bn worth of contracts. Integrated planning was implemented from the outset with all projects working to common standards and with harmonised processes. Decision making was supported by a governance structure that acknowledged the responsibility and autonomy of project managers but at the same time enabled effective escalation when necessary. So, for example, CLM created a risk management framework at three levels: project, programme and external to programme with a governance structure that facilitated decision making on a timeframe dictated by the programme schedule.

One key concept which proved invaluable in practice was that of the programme level business case. MSP makes clear the importance of the Programme Business Case but implementing that principle is not easy. 2012 got it exactly right.  Of fundamental importance to the success of 2012 was of course the issue of Legacy - the programme had to deliver far more that 'just' a fantastic summer of sport. The Legacy - which essentially made the benefits case - comprised the canals and waterways of the River Lea, parks, sports facilities and improved infrastructure as well as the village properties (all pre-sold, by the way, with more than half going to housing associations). As a result, and in line with MSP guidance, the Programme Business Case set out the 'funding envelope' and target benefits in a way that provided the Programme Executive with authority in return for accountability. The approved Programme BC clearly defined the overall 'cost envelope' and associated benefits. Having been approved at the programme level, and being accountable thereafter, the Programme Executive were then able to work flexibly and creatively, making trade-offs where possible in seeking acceptable (in respect of time, cost and quality) solutions. The evidence of the 2012 programme approach can be found in a number of documents that form part of the Learning Legacy ( The Programme Management Framework in particular is well worth a visit for anyone involved or interested in programmes - and I think that's the vast majority of the Programme Recruitment community.


To quote Dennis Hone, CEO of the ODA, "from day one the team identified good project management as key". CLM created an environment that allowed the projects and their supply chain to work and perform in the interests of the programme. So for example, progress monitoring (including Earned Value), risk and issue management were all part of the Programme Framework that defined the way in which work would be done. The expectations of the programme and the needs of the projects - including key resources throughout the life cycle - were married together in the best interests of both - but ultimately the Programme outcomes took precedence. For this approach to work, transparency was key, and this meant the right behaviours were needed to allow individual projects to do the right thing for the programme. Some people fitted the mould, others didn't, and they were moved on (or out) quite quickly. Evidence of the success of this community effect was the one team approach and the unity of purpose created. To quote Stuart Fraser, the Balfour Beatty Project Director, "at project level all the principal contractors on site agreed to one way of working to achieve a set of common goals". The role of the ODA as an 'intelligent client' was key to project performance - creating a framework of standards within which contractors could "do their own thing". Put another way, ODA / CLM created the 'building regulations' while projects could deliver their building designs supported by rigorous evaluation of project level business cases.

So, I think we’d all agree, P3M was fundamental to 2012 success. Implicit within this is the importance of team and community, shared values, the right behaviours, a common understanding of what success looks like and effective decision making processes - all themes that we've touched on in previous thought pieces.

In closing, it would remiss of me not to mention the recent publication of APM's Body of Knowledge in its 6th Edition. I'd recommend anyone who hasn't already got a copy to take a look. For the first time, the BoK makes explicit the levels of project, programme and portfolio with separate commentary for each level in respect of each topic. I'm pleased to have played a very small part in its production and believe the 6th Edition is a big step forward.

So, as we bask in the embers of a red hot summer of sporting celebrations, it is very clear to us all I think, that 2012 was a resounding success.  The result of a lot of very hard work and commitment, but also as a direct consequence of P3M - Britain and our profession at its best.

© Dr Bill Egginton, 17th September 2012

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