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The real-time rewards of project management: my 5 top tips for successful projects

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Suzanne receiving the Dame Lesley Strathie Award from Lin Homer

I have always found spending money enjoyable! But leading government projects and being accountable for ensuring millions of pounds of other peoples' money is spent wisely brings with it huge challenges and responsibility. This, the sense of achievement and the ability to make a real difference, are why I find my job so rewarding.

I've been leading major government projects for the past 8 years  - but that's not what I thought I'd be doing when I left university as a Chemistry and Management Studies graduate, 18 years ago.

I imagined I'd end up working for a pharmaceutical or chemical company, but in a managerial or administrative role, as I didn’t much enjoy the lab-based work.  Among the many jobs I applied for in my final year was one in the Inland Revenue Fast Stream my Dad persuaded me to go for.  I wasn't convinced, but as there was a large Inland Revenue complex just down the road from my uni in Nottingham, I could see some advantages!

The rest, as they say, is history.  After a year in a local tax office I moved to head office, working in a range of strategy and policy roles as part of my Fast Stream training.  Promoted to Grade 7, I took on the role of private secretary to our chairman and board, which included exciting times as the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise merged to form HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

I was still itching to see what might have been had I not joined the Civil Service, so I agreed to a 7-month secondment with global pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.  It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the public and private sectors, but my secondment only confirmed for me that I was a public servant at heart.

The scale of HMRC projects

Returning to the newly merged HMRC, I stumbled into the emerging digital and online services area.  I've worked on projects to put Self-Assessment, Corporation Tax, VAT and PAYE forms online; provide joined-up advice and guidance for small businesses; reform the 70-year old PAYE system and make it fit for the 21st century; and, most recently, I've been working on providing support to working parents with childcare costs.

The scale of the services you work on is staggering. Moving the PAYE system to real-time information (RTI) reporting affected:

  • c. 1.8m PAYE schemes run by employers across the UK
  • c. 41m employees - the likes of you and me

The new system is delivering nearly £300 million annually in lower administration costs for business, and now reports PAYE payments of around £250 billion a year in real-time, helping collect the right tax at the right time.

I love working on government projects - where else do you get the opportunity to touch so many lives for the better? You also get to do a bit of everything - policy, communications, operational delivery, stakeholder engagement and leadership - underlining the variety of skills you need and learn.

5 tips for successful project and programme management

Here are my 5 top tips for managing projects and programmes successfully:

  1. Be really clear about the policy outcomes you want to deliver, and ‘sell’ the vision to your team and stakeholders. Buy-in is essential
  2. Build your team from people with lots of different skills and styles and focus them on your common goal
  3. Understand your customers and what’s important to them - whether they’re citizens or colleagues who are going to use your products to support end-users
  4. Start small, keep testing ideas and products to ensure they meet your users’ needs, develop them and gradually expand your services.  It's much better to learn with a small group of willing volunteers than millions of customers
  5. Be open and honest about what’s going well and what's not.  Don't be afraid to ask for help and actively seek the views of your critics - they may have some answers.

Project and Programme Management is a growing profession in government. It’s great to use the many networks and training events available to improve our knowledge and skills across the profession - sharing our learning and best practice.  You can find out more here.

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