Infrastructure and Planning

Best practice for projects

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland  - 27 March 2008 -  General view of 'The Arc' under construction at the Abercorn Basin in the new Titanic Quarter area of Belfast. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Official guidance on project management explains how setting clear objectives can save time and money.

The Northern Ireland Guide to Expenditure Appraisal and Evaluation, published by the Department of Finance and Personnel, aims to the make public sector a “best practice client” when procuring construction projects and services.

Principles for procurement are outlined in the Achieving Excellence in Construction guidance, and include undertaking post-project reviews, benchmarking, and adopting the highest standards of integrity, objectivity, fairness, efficiency, courtesy and professionalism.

While these are especially important for major projects, the principles are relevant to projects of all sizes. Client project management procedures must identify the roles of investment decision-maker, project owner (or senior responsible owner) and project sponsor. The procedures must also draw a clear distinction between the client roles and the provider roles, with the latter including the project manager, staff carrying out design functions, and the works contractors.

The project manager must have technical expertise, reflecting his or her responsibility to manage the project on a day-by-day basis. At agreed intervals, the manager will report back to the sponsor on the project’s overall progress, adherence to the relevant department’s agreed systems and procedures, and the compliance of contractors and suppliers with requirements.

For projects valued above the delegated limit, the Department of Finance and Personnel’s supply divisions will be the approving authority. The project sponsor should report progress to the department at agreed points in accordance with the conditions and timetable set out when the project was approved.

The guide seeks to ensure that sponsors place a greater emphasis on defining the project, making estimates, and assessing and managing risk when the project is initiated. The sponsor should also ensure that there is a clear project brief which provides a comprehensive statement of why the department requires the project.

“Greater thoroughness prior to formal approval is considered to be one of the most important factors in achieving better control and performance,” the document states. Completion on time and within budget “depends crucially” on a thorough specification and careful assessment of the cost and time required and the development of a project execution plan.

This document will include a formal statement of the project brief and the user’s needs, and how these needs will be met by the project manager. The plan is also a “live active management document” to be regularly updated and used by all parties and to measure control and performance measurement. The sponsor must be satisfied that the plan is “viable and realistic … for implementing the project and achieving its objectives.”

Applying DFP guidelines on budget estimation and cost management (including allowances for risks and whole life costs) should help to alert departments to potential overruns and give them sufficient time to make improvements. Sponsoring departments “should pay particular attention to the management of risk giving rise to time and cost slippage.”

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