Senior Responsible Owner

Senior Responsible Owner – what does that even mean and what does he or she do? Well, one of the key reasons that big, complex programmes can fail or at least, not achieve what they are supposed to, on time and budget is a lack of clear accountability. So in 2000, the UK adopted the SRO (sometimes also referred to as a programme executive) as the single point of accountability for public sector programmes: SROs of major UK projects are named here.

The SRO is ultimately responsible for the achievement of ‘benefits’ i.e. the thing doing what it’s supposed to in support of the bigger picture. As an RAF SRO I am expected to be publicly visible, an advocate for the programme and in a change to past military postings policy, stay in post for an extended period to see programmes through key stages.

I’m responsible for managing my stakeholders; informing and collaborating with them to make sure they deliver to me, I deliver to them and they work in support of my programmes. I ensure the programme is on track, keeping tabs on the myriad of inputs complex programmes can have. A good example for the RAF is our ‘capital programmes’ like the AIRSEEKER signals intelligence aircraft. It’s tempting to focus just on the 3 aircraft that the RAF is acquiring, but particularly for a capability like


Defence Lines of Development capture the ‘non-equipment’ factors

this, the aircraft is only a portion of what delivers the benefit. To do this, we have to have trained people, infrastructure support for operations and maintenance, a plan for how to use the capability (in military terms, this is out ‘doctrine’) and of course an information and communications backbone to gather, filter and transmit data to get it where it needs to be to inform decisions. The aircraft really is just the tip of the iceberg; recruiting, retaining and training the right people can often take longer and be harder than negotiating a contract to buy airplanes!

How do you know things are on course? Well the National Audit Office compiles an annual report of Defence’s largest programmes so it’s possible to track them. Also, the Major Projects Authority compiles an annual report. The most recent one shows that the UK has some 188 projects officially designated ‘major’ due to their cost and/or impact. These combined are worth £489Bn! AIRSEEKER is one of these Government Major Projects. In order to drive the kind of improvements identified in the MPA report a rigorous holding to account process is established; I may be summoned to give evidence to the Parliamentary select-committee-300x150.jpgAccounts Committee about any of my Major Projects and I am required to undertake a third party ‘Gateway Review’ at frequent stages throughout the lifecycle.

In order to make sure I can deliver both the programme and the information to enable the governance of it, I have a Programme Management Office here at RAF Air Command. With the help of other distributed staff, notably in the Defence Equipment & Support at Abbey des.gifWood, these people are the powerhouse of the programme. Together, we work on those things that put at risk any element of the programme, we manage the drumbeat of programme activities, co-ordinate publicity and stakeholder communications and of course, produce information for scrutiny.

I hope this has given you an overview of what an SRO does but I would be happy to answer any questions through the comments section and please watch my Twitter account for some of the day-to-day SRO work that goes on in managing some of these programmes.




Major Projects Leadership Academy

In September I moved to RAF Air Command to set up a post as the RAF’s Senior Responsible Owner for delivery of our Air Command & Control and Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance programs.  These include some big-ticket items: Project MARSHALL, which is replacing all UK and overseas Air Traffic Management via a service delivery contract with Aquilla, a joint venture between Thales and NATS.Reaper  Also, the REAPER and its replacement, PROTECTOR Remotely Piloted Air Systems, soon the new UK Multi Mission Aircraft in the Maritime Patrol role initially, the AIRSEEKER signals intelligence aircraft and E3-D Sentry extension and upgrade are among the programmes for which I am responsible.  I do not control the day-to-day operations and tasking of these systems – the ISAirseeker.jpgTAR Force Commander carries that role, whereas I deliver the programmes that introduces new
capabilities, change, extend or upgrade existing ones or provide capability management out beyond the necessarily shorter-term horizon of the Force Commander but as you can imagine, we seen a lot of time on the phone, ensuring that we are in agreement and alignment about the many issues that crop up right on the boundaries between us.


So with that established, what is the MPLA all about?  The Civil Service Reform plan in 2014 established the MPLA in order to try to ensure that major programmes delivered on time and to cost.  At that time only a third of them did, with large over runs or cost growth typical.  The programme is run by the Said Business School, part of the University of Oxford and is mandated for Senior Responsible Owners of government Major Programmes.  A Major Programme is generally defined as either something of considerable financial value (typically >£1Bn) or has particular non-financial value (such as a major change activity) or that in some other way would be important to the prosperity or security of the UK.  There are currently about 350 Major Programmes in the UK, and the Major Projects Authority is charged with ensuring they are delivered effectively and efficiently.

The MPLA (overview here) is run over about 15 months and is akin to a Masters-level programme but the qualification is a bespoke one, not matched to any other Masters.  There are numerous essays and case studies, 3 Residential periods of a week each, masterclasses, ‘Action Learning Sets’ where groups of us form into smaller teams to discuss the problems that we are finding tricky to solve.  In addition, each of us conducts Cabinet Office training to become a high risk reviewer.  This allows us to participate in formal reviews of the most challenging Major Projects acrid government.  Normally, participants will have already faced similar reviews as part of their duties so this experience as ‘poacher’ helps us to make the transition to the other side, whilst learning all the time from others on how to make our own programmes better.

At the end of the programme, our entire portfolio of work and evidence is bound together for a final Viva, where we are given pass or fail – a career-defining moment for all of us.

I’ll post more details as I progress through the MPLA: So far I have completed the first written assignment, 2 Action Learning sets, High Risk Reviewer training and the first Residential!  If you’d like even more information about the content of the course, this is the MPLA handbook which guides us through the programme.

%d bloggers like this: