All strategic change in an organization happens through projects and programs. Changes in a political environment are no different. Following the UK's recent Brexit referendum, change is inevitable and close. Whether it takes two years or two months before the UK formally withdraws from the EU, the government will need a disciplined approach to change management to avoid time-consuming and costly initiatives. The mechanics of the withdrawal process will be key, and sound project management techniques can help the government navigate through this uncertain period.

Private-sector organizations often go through transformational change, such as a restructuring or a merger/acquisition, with the unique needs of each organizational shift helping to inform the approach for effective management. Lou Pack, senior vice president representing ICF International on PMI's Global Executive Council, spoke to the role of program management and a Project Management Office (PMO) as enablers for successful organizational transformations at the 2015 PMO Symposium in Phoenix.

While transformation can range from an orderly, step-by-step process to a wildly accelerated pace driven by a sudden deadline or external need, many transformations share the same challenges. As Pack sees it, these often include no road map, a poorly defined or communicated vision, undefined or ill-defined benefits, and unrealistic expectations of outcomes. The goals, whether it's an organizational transformation or a governmental transition such as Brexit, remain the same: minimize business disruption, manage risk and engage stakeholders in the process. So the question becomes, how can we ensure that these goals are realized?

The answer isportfolio, program and project management (PPPM).Let's consider Brexit a series of projects that can be translated into clearly defined goals with quantifiable benefits. With this, good project management practices include defining the current state and desired end state of projects spurred by Brexit in order to tailor the approach to the transformation. Requirements should be identified at the outset and a governance process should be established.

The creation of a new cabinet position specifically tasked with negotiating Brexit can be likened to the establishment of a PMO: the PMO is responsible for linking all projects and programs to the overall organizational strategy, as Brexit Minister David Davis is responsible for ensuring that all Brexit negotiations meet the needs of his constituents and align to the overall strategy of the UK government. Davis, along with his Department for Exiting the EU, will need to establish clear metrics and milestones, and communicate all defined roles and responsibilities to ensure proper execution. Progress against business goals needs to be managed and measured, with effective risk and change management techniques in place to minimize any negative impacts. The Prime Minister and her cabinet will undoubtedly act as the executive committee steering Davis and his team through the transformation.

Creating a disciplined culture of project management in any organization does not come at the flip of a switch. Here in the US,  the federal government needs to ensure it has a proven, competent, standardized project management capability in order to be prepared for large-scale transformational initiatives (e.g., industry regulatory overhauls such as healthcare or financial services, DOD Sequestration, etc.).

The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 (PMIAA), if enacted, will enable extraordinary improvements to program and project management policy and bolster workforce development across the US federal government. It will help ensure that the US is fully prepared for future transformative initiatives. It will also support an approach centered around the management of benefits realization, which would ultimately ensure that benefits are delivered to the most important stakeholders of all … the citizens.

Projects are the stepping stones to change and transformation. Regardless of whether organizations are in the public or private sector and based anywhere in the world, it's critical to establish a baseline and nurture a sustained culture of project and program management, one that will make it easier to proactively address challenges before they become unmanageable, instead of relying on the ability to react when a challenge cannot be ignored. 

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