The acute need for a project management approach within Limerick City and County Council arose from the introduction of a matrix organisational structure in April 2016 following the merger of the two local authorities in 2014. A new operating model was introduced separating strategic and operational functions to create greater focus and efficiency, given the diminishing resources in local government. The approach creates greater agility in Limerick City and County Council to manage the increased demands for local services and better capacity to take on new opportunities. This configuration prompted a need for a well-defined process to manage initiatives that leveraged resources from the different funding sources. Using a project management approach would lead to a consistent process to manage matrix teams and provide effective reporting to internal and external stakeholders. I would like to set the organisational context and then describe some of the main challenges we are facing as we implement our new project management approach.

The progression to a matrix structure

Following the announcement in 2014, that a merger was imminent between both Limerick authorities, advance planning for the merger commenced immediately. The driving forces behind the modification of the organisational structure were a new model of local governance and the need for a proactive service delivery within Limerick City and County Council. The majority of local authorities are typically organised as a functional structure. Wherein the organisation is typically broken down into different sections based upon the specialties. Functional structures create rigid vertical chains of command with staff grouped together in silos. This rigid structure hinders staff movement between functional departments. From 2012 to 2014 the initial changes to the organisational structure reduced the overall number of nine directorates down to five allowing for better use of staff resources. See Figure 1 below. [caption id="attachment_49743" align="alignright" width="300"] Figure 1: Organisational Structure 2012- 2014[/caption] Although, the 2014 structure allowed functional directors access to a larger cohort of staff resources, a clear emphasis on strategy development was still required. The need for strategy development resulted in the evolution of a matrix structure which separated strategic functions from operational functions. Three strategic directorates: social, economic and physical were identified with a primary role of strategic development (see Figure 2). In the context of project management the role of the strategic departments is to meet on a regular basis and ‘choose the right projects’ for the organisation as opposed to the service operations directorate whose role is to ‘do projects right’. [caption id="attachment_49744" align="alignright" width="300"] Figure 2. Matrix Organisational Structure 2016[/caption] Following a review of the merged authority in 2018, the existing directorates and functions were re-aligned in response to both local and national priorities which resulted in additional directorates focusing on housing development and capital investment (see Figure 3). One of the strengths of the new authority has been the capacity to respond to the needs and demands of a changing environment and adapt to the new challenges that lie ahead over the next decade. In Limerick City and County Council’s matrix organisation control is shared between directorates determining how projects are delivered. The project manager, typically located within the capital investment directorate shares responsibility for the project, while the relevant strategic director is accountable for the successful delivery of the project. As the matrix structure gives responsibility to both project managers and strategic directors, the outcome is a more seamless division of labour and, ultimately, will lead to the building of a stronger team culture. However, the potential for conflict between strategic directors and project managers still exists because there is still conflict over resource distribution. [caption id="attachment_49745" align="alignright" width="300"] Figure 3 Matrix Organisational Structure 2018[/caption]

Key challenges

Based on the organisational context above and to ensure an efficacious project management approach, I have outlined six key challenges that were addressed. Following the merger, it was evident that dissimilar project management cultures existed albeit, both authorities had to comply with many external project management guidelines such as the Capital Works Management Framework, TII Project Management Guidelines, NTA Project Management Guidelines and so on. Our cultural change began with a vision that was reinforced by consultation, training and management tools which ensured behavioural change. The first initiative established a Project Management Advisory Group (PMAG) within the organisation. The primary role of the PMAG determined the extent of project management knowledge within the new organisation and identified common approaches. Throughout the process of establishing a common approach we focused on a number of key areas. First, when developing and implementing an organisational wide project management approach we discovered that there were pockets of effective project and portfolio management practice which had to be exploited. Second, senior management buy-in was essential to the success of such an organisational endeavour; early buy-in from key line managers, project managers and team members were also critical success factors. Third, all too often the primary portfolio, programme and project roles were poorly defined with ambiguity surrounding the responsibility and accountability for key activities. These roles need to be understood in the context of a 'project management environment', and particularly in a matrix organisational structure. In order to do this, organisation level agreements (OLAs) were created and accepted by each of the directorates in turn, clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Next, an important requirement for Limerick City and County Council is to report efficiently and accurately on projects at all stages. Many of our projects are funded by different external sources and require different levels of information to be reported on. Finally, a common project approach should not be so prescriptive that it can only apply to complex projects. The approach was fashioned to be scalable and applicable to real scenarios across all types of projects, ensuring that the basic principles of the corporate project management approach are transparent and are easily understood. Furthermore, the PMAG was used as a sounding board for the development of new common processes and project templates. The information gained from the PMAG, in addition to project management training, allowed us to achieve a common process as well as awareness and language within the organisation around project management. This process is now being implemented using a project management information system supplied by CORA Systems Ltd. In our approach we were very conscious to include people in the process and avoid coercion tactics, particularly before a clear vision of the future was in place.


A successful organisation requires suitable project processes, technology, policies and standards for project management; these need to be integrated with other financial and customer management systems for them to work effectively and efficiently. From the outset, our aim was to radically change how we manage projects and a considerable amount of resources were committed to ensure the success of this approach. The challenge remains that 'If you can't measure it, you can't improve it', as the saying goes. As an integral part of our project management improvement process within Limerick City and County Council, it was necessary to set a baseline of our project, programme and portfolio management maturity. In order to measure the maturity of our organisation, we used a Portfolio, Programme, and Project Management Maturity Model (P3M3) to assess and benchmark our current performance. The P3M3 model has five maturity levels: • Level 1: Awareness • Level 2: Repeatable • Level 3: Defined • Level 4: Managed • Level 5: Optimised P3M3 is owned by Axelos, a joint venture between the UK government and Capita, which took ownership of the materials in January 2014. Prior to this, P3M3 was owned by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), a department within the UK government with a remit to help public sector organisations improve their efficiency, gain better value for money from procurements and deliver improved success from programmes and projects. The model is based on the opinions and experiences of various staff members at different levels throughout the organisation who are involved with delivering projects, managing programmes and developing corporate strategies. In order to build the model, there were three key assessment groups focused on: project managers, programme managers and portfolio managers. In turn, they were assessed across seven project management perspectives: • Organisational governance • Management control • Benefits management • Risk management • Stakeholder management • Finance management • Resource management Information harvested from the survey was collated and mainly used to identify areas for improvement and to measure the success of our project management initiatives. More specifically, data from these surveys was referenced in drawing up an improvement plan and continuous project management improvement initiatives going forward.

Choosing the right projects

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project portfolio management is the “centralised management of one or more portfolios that enable executive management to meet organisational goals and objectives through efficient decision making on portfolios, projects, programmes, and operations”. One of Limerick City and County Council’s key challenges was to ensure that the four strategic directorates would interact and make the right decisions around choosing the ‘right projects’. The four strategic directorates had to evaluate key characteristics to make decisions related to risks, resources, finances, sustainable planning and need. The collective assessment of these criteria allows Limerick City and County Council to make smart choices. The objective is to work on the ‘right projects at the right time’.

Compliance with the public spending code

The public spending code imposes obligations on local authorities and other public organisations who spend public money, at all stages of the project/programme life-cycle. These obligations are challenging to those that have responsibility at the different stages, that is, those within the sponsoring agency or sanctioning authority responsible for appraising, planning, approving, implementing or reviewing projects. An additional requirement of the public spending code is that each department should put in place an internal, independent, quality assurance procedure involving annual reporting on how organisations are meeting their public spending code obligations. The project management approach incorporated the PSC requirements through various means, namely, a project governance structure, project templates, and the management of all projects under one project management information system

Project management governance

Project governance is an “oversight function that is aligned with the organisation's governance model and encompasses the project life cycle”, according to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition (Project Management Institute, 2013, p. 34). There are two critical challenges in this assertion that need to be accentuated: first, alignment with organisation's governance; there needs to be an understanding of the project environment to ensure that there is a right fit with the established organisation's governance. This alignment is a crucial challenge and must be considered when defining the project governance structure, roles and responsibilities and stakeholder engagement and communication. These prerequisites need to be addressed at the project’s onset. Second, the project manager needs to conform to the governance plan throughout the project and control the effectiveness of the governance plan. When controlling the project, the project manager ensures that there are adequate meetings, reporting, risk and issue management and project management change control.

Development of the project tracking system

To ensure the effective management and quality control of projects within the organisation and to allow the above challenges to be addressed in a synchronised approach, a bespoke project tracking system was required. In essence, a system that would allow the centralisation of project management processes, tools, templates and a project management governance structure. A comprehensive consultation process was conducted throughout the organisation to ascertain the requirements of each of the stakeholders for such a system. Once the requirements were documented, Limerick City and County Council procured a project management tracking system. The main benefits of such a system allows for: • Rapid project status reporting • Management of risks and issues throughout the project lifecycle • Management of change control on projects • Financial integration with existing financial systems • Integration with our CRM system


Of course, implementing an organisational-wide project management approach successfully will not happen overnight. Implementing formal project management processes requires a concerted effort by the organisation to develop and implement policies, processes, and project methodologies to support its effective use. Additionally, certain behavioural expectations on the part of staff are necessary for the systematic and successful implementation of the project approach. There needs to be enthusiasm and buy-in across the authority, and not just from senior management but from all staff. This can be achieved through a series of consultative workshops to develop the project management material and agreeing a clear method for implementation. Collaborative working is essential for success and the recognition that there must be some level of change management required. The implementation and portraying of the project management approach needs to be planned and pitched at the right level; it will need to be supported by continuing in-house training and awareness sessions. The result is an authority that can adapt to changing circumstances across a broad range of projects and programmes and be assured in its ability to manage risk and resources. Author: John Moloney, chartered engineer, Limerick City and County Council. He is currently working with in the business improvement department and is responsible for the rollout of a project management approach across Limerick City and County Council. Over the last 18 years, he has worked in various engineering roles in housing and roads both in the private and public sectors. He holds a BEng in civil engineering and a MSc in project and programme management.