Delivering Government Policy – the Keys to Success with Neil Mann

We sat down with Neil Mann, former ATO deputy commissioner and now a Principal Consultant with Apis Group, to discover the keys to successful government policy delivery, project management, business analysis.

Delivering Government Policy – the Keys to Success with Neil Mann

We sat down with Neil to discover the keys to successful government policy delivery, project management, business analysis and to discover his pearls of wisdom for current Executive Leaders and Senior Executives across all government agencies and departments.

Neil Mann, Principal Consultant, joined Apis Group in 2011 after an impressive career as a senior public sector executive at the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Immigration and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.  Along the way, Neil has led the introduction of legislative and administrative tax reforms, reforms to immigration compliance management, and initiatives to improve passenger and trade facilitation.  Neil now provides his expertise in the design, development and delivery of change initiatives to public sector departments and agencies.

Neil’s top tips for project success


In terms of your more senior roles and experience, what was the first major project you worked on? Knowing what you do now, what you like to go back and tell yourself about that project in terms of strategy, planning and implementations?

My first senior role on a major project was the implementation of the first stage of child support reforms with the ATO. If I could go back and tell myself anything about that project, it would be to ensure that each stage of the project, from strategy development, to project management, right through to implementation, was as transparent as possible to all involved and that all stakeholders, including staff, were continually informed of the project status and next stages of progression.

What has been your most challenging project? Why?

I’ve held a number of Deputy Commissioner roles that require very high levels of transparency and have had a very critical eye watching over my performance and the performance of my team. Monitoring at a very close level is of course, necessary, but it does create new sets of challenges.

My work with Border Protection Services included the development of integration processes to address the issues of detention at that time – in one year, we had to reform the compliance process and provide a complete risk management framework. This was highly sensitive work, I had come in cold to a new department and had to learn very quickly how to handle criticism of, not just myself, but the team and the department. Given the timeframe, level of scrutiny and expectations, a dispersed workforce and difficulty engaging staff to come on board, it was a challenging time, to say the least!

Project management can be very complex, what advice can you give project managers to help make the process run as smoothly as possible?

The most important thing about project management happens at the very beginning – and that is intent. You must have clear intent of what it is you want to achieve and why. If your intent is not crystallised and the steps to achieving this with all parties is unclear, problems are inevitable.

Problems of some degree happen with all projects, however if you have a clear intent from the start, the commitment and involvement of all stakeholders to best use their resources and expertise, as well as clear roles and responsibilities, these problems can be swiftly mitigated as they arise.

What are your top strategies for effective business analysis?

Firstly, I think it’s important to take yourself out of the picture as much as possible, to get as clear and objective a perspective as you can. From there, you need to make sure that the current business systems can deliver what all stakeholders require in the present moment. If they can’t, it’s important to determine how easily they can be adapted to deliver the needs of the organisation both today and into the future.

It’s a bit more than analysing the ‘pieces of the puzzle’, so to speak, it’s about seeing how adaptable each business component is, or can be.

Leadership is an essential quality for executives and senior executives, how would you define effective leadership? What are your suggestions to help individuals cultivate these leadership qualities in themselves and their teams?

Good governance is a key factor of successful project delivery, especially when having to navigate your way through any project challenges. Good governance and leadership starts with effective communication – you must get those conversations going with all stakeholders, including staff, as early as possible.

Listening to the voices of experience and utilising the existing skills within your organisation and those of any external stakeholders is also the sign of good leadership, as it increases project ownership and end user buy-in, as well as addressing risks before they have the opportunity to become serious issues.

What are your views on the current state of play in delivering major government policy initiatives? What do you think is being done well? What can be improved? Where do you think change is needed?

Funding issues are always a concern – there’s not as much large scale, whole-of-project funding available today. This requires new strategies around the life-cycle of assets and maximising funding and investment dollars as they come in bite-sized chunks.

In today’s climate, the prioritisation of what you do is essential. Whilst is it easy to view this distribution of funds as a negative, it can be a source of innovation, requiring systems to have a built in capability to adapt to future environments and situations for projects.

Engagement is always an issue, executives and government have full schedules with competing priorities, however project managers must make their involvement a necessity, to help drive good governance.

What advice do you wish you were given at the start and middle of your career?

At the start of my career I think it would have been reassuring to be told that you don’t need to know everything. Listen. Expand your pool of expertise, both personally and in your teams. During the middle, it would be to get used to engaging with risk, to actively mitigate risk, to manage and not be scared of it.