Major Projects Leadership Academy
Our Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA) was the first government major project leadership programme in the world.
It is transforming the implementation of major projects by the UK Government, helping to deliver benefits for the wider economy by improving efficiency and capability. The UK Government manages around 150 major projects, worth a collective £455.5 billion, including:
- transforming a range of government services such as ‘Making Tax Digital'
- achieving efficiencies in the way government is run to reduce costs and free up resources from back-office functions to provide better front-line services
- delivering major infrastructure projects, such as the High Speed 2 railway.
Delivering these major projects on time, on budget and ensuring projected benefits is a major challenge. Slippage can result in significant extra costs and poorer service to citizens, and the diversion of precious government resources to remedy any deficiencies.
Creation of the academy
In 2011, the UK Government established the Major Projects Authority (MPA), later to become the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). At the time only a third of the government’s major projects were delivered on time and on budget. In addition, many projects were led by external consultants who were able to hone their skills while working for the government but, at the end of the project, took this capability back to the private sector.
To help improve the success of major projects, the MPA commissioned Saïd Business School and created the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA). The academy aims to improve the delivery of UK Government major projects and to retain and build the government’s own body of expertise on major project leadership.
The academy, which blends academic rigour from Saïd Business School's faculty with insights from experienced practitioners, is typically delivered over 18 months. It is divided into three five-day residential modules, interspersed with assignments, master classes and the review of a major project. Half the programme focuses on major project leadership, with the remainder split equally between technical understanding of major project delivery and commercial capability.
Gaining practical skills and insights
Participants are Senior Responsible Owners and Project Directors from the Government Major Projects Portfolio. During the programme, participants continue to work full time on their projects so they can apply their learning directly to the workplace and bring their issues and insights back to the academy. Along with input from the latest research, the academy is continually refreshed to ensure that it always keeps track with best practice.
There are also regular alumni events for graduates. Leading a major project can be a lonely job and the academy is creating a network of people with a common, shared experience who can support each other and provide a sounding board outside their management teams.
The academy has not just changed the way we deliver specific programmes; it has now changed the culture in government so that we understand what is required when we need to deliver major projects.
Increasing project success rates
In 2012, only 30% of major projects were expected to be delivered on time and on budget. By 2014, savings of £147 million were seen as more managers completed the programme. Today major projects have an 85% success rate, internal leadership expertise has increased, and overlaps and duplications have been reduced.
To date, over 700 participants have graduated from over 47 government departments and a series of workshops has also been delivered for permanent secretaries, secretaries of state, ministerial teams and their senior civil servants within departments, and the Public Accounts Committee.
Delivering successful outcomes for government
The academy has developed the government’s own body of expertise on major project leadership.
This required coordination across 26 different departments and agencies. It needed the engagement of a large number of stakeholders, including end users, and the delivery of advanced real-time technology, all whilst maintaining existing services.
Reducing overlaps and duplication has brought benefits to businesses and other users and makes it simpler to comply with regulations. At the same time, government is more joined up and certain about what goods are being moved across the border, enabling border enforcement resources to be focused where they are most needed.
The academy is one of Saïd Business School’s longest-running Custom Executive Education programmes. While it has already transformed the level of expertise within government, a continued programme to develop the capabilities of between 60 and 70 participants each year is expected. This will help to maintain skill levels.
The project leaders who complete the MPLA are at the pinnacle of the project delivery profession we are creating, and it is our ambition that the vast majority of the government’s major projects will be led by these leaders.
Major project excellence beyond the UK
The success has attracted attention from other countries including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong SAR and the Dominican Republic, as well as large corporations involved in the UK Government’s supply chain.
The Centre of Excellence for Major Project Leaders (CoE), under the Hong Kong Development Bureau, launched the Major Projects Leadership Programme in 2019, the first of its kind in Asia. It aims to enhance the capabilities of senior government officials managing major construction and public works projects across Hong Kong, equipping them with a more innovative mentality and world-class leadership skills.
In Australia in 2019, the Victorian Major Projects Leadership Academy was established to help build and maintain the talent needed to deliver complex infrastructure projects. Following the success of the programme, it has grown to include participants from all across the country and New Zealand. Since 2020, it has been known as the Australian Major Projects Leadership Academy.