The UK government (via the “Government Commercial Function”) has issued a set of professional standards for Contract Management. The standards have been given a high profile, as can be seen by the fact that the foreword to the document is credited to Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service; and John Manzoni Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office and Chief Executive of the Civil Service. Two very important people in the world of UK central government!
The Standards set out the capabilities expected of government professionals who are involved in the management of contracts, many of whom sit outside the “traditional” procurement functions in government organisations. As the Foreword explains:
“We have identified that the bulk of contract management activity sits outside the commercial function. These civil servants may come from a policy or operational background, or may be part of another professional function other than commercial. We have therefore developed the Contract Management Professional Standards to ensure that all those charged with managing vital and often complex commercial arrangements are aware of the capabilities expected of them”.
There is a focus on working in a cross-functional and collaborative manner with colleagues from different areas, as well as with specific professionals (such as lawyers). The standards have also been developed with input from external organisations such as CIPS and IACCM, and reference to other insight and guidance, such as the National Audit Office “Commercial and contract management: insights and emerging best practice”, which we have been featuring here in some detail over the last year or so.
The new Standards are structured into two sections: Section A describes the more general business and behavioural skills required; and splits into two headings, Business Acumen and Relationships and Capability.
Section B describes technical areas of expertise, which relate in the main to the different stages of the end to end procurement process, from the pre-contracting stage all the way through to contract management and transition. The six areas are: Design and Ongoing Development, Procurement and Mobilisation, Managing Contract Delivery, Change Control, Stakeholder Engagement and Risk Management.
In terms of the level of the people to whom the standards apply, three levels are defined – Foundation, Practitioner and Expert. Those levels are described in the document and are brought to life by essays describing what we assume are three real people whose contract management work illustrates those varying levels.
There are a number of thoughtful touches like that in the document, which stop it being simply a long and potentially tedious list of desirable skills and characteristics. As well as the individual profiles, there are case studies featuring the “Healthy Start Vitamins” contract in the Department of Health, and the “Work and Health Programme” in the Department of Work and Pensions. (Good job the authors didn’t choose a Carillion contract …)
No doubt there will be additions and further development of the standards as gaps are identified – after just a quick perusal, we couldn’t see any mention of the need to consider regulatory issues under the “change control” section for instance (how far a contract can be “changed” takes you into potential issues around EU and UK procurement legislation.) It also seems to under-play the element of negotiation (with the supplier, not with internal stakeholders) that in our experience can play a major role in the contract manager’s work. That is also not an area of traditional strength for government professionals, so it would be good perhaps to see more focus on those activities and skills here.
But all in all, this is a good and useful piece of work, and anything that increases the focus on contract management, and lays out what is needed to improve it in government, is to be welcomed. So we’ll let Heywood and Manzoni have the final word.
“Whether you identify as a contract manager or carry out contract management activities as part of a different role, we want to help you develop the full range of skills, acumen and relationships required to manage contracts effectively. By developing standards, identifying development needs and learning opportunities and providing assessment tools we can continue to deliver on our promise to make commercial excellence the new normal”.